For the first time since the Frisbee made its debut and the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik into orbit, U.S. exports of natural gas surpassed imports, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported this week. The achievement, 60 years in the making, precedes a swift ramp-up as a bevy of new facilities and LNG export terminals coming online will almost triple liquefaction capacity by the end of 2019.
The expansion of U.S. export capacity will face a global market in flux as countries increasing their use of natural gas grapple with ways to obtain it. While the current structure relies on massive facilities and long-term contracts, the future LNG business model could be far more freewheeling, with a global fleet of LNG-laden carriers roaming the seas and pivoting toward regasification facilities in need of supply. In this scenario, long-term contracts would give way to spot market prices.
At least that is part of a future envisioned by Charif Souki, chairman of Tellurian Inc. and trailblazer of the U.S. LNG export business. But natural gas exports are not simply the result of demand, he said at the recent CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference in Houston. The supply side drives it as well, specifically the production of crude oil.