Sempra Energy said May 31 the $10 billion Cameron LNG export terminal in Louisiana had shipped its first cargo, making the plant the fourth big LNG export terminal to enter service in the U.S.

Mitsui & Co Ltd., one of the partners in the Cameron project, chartered the tanker, Marvel Crane, to pick up the commissioning cargo.

It was not immediately clear where the vessel was headed.

Sempra said commissioning cargos were a critical step in the start-up process. The plant is expected to get federal authorization to enter commercial operations in mid-2019.

Natural gas use is growing fast around the world as countries seek to wean their industrial and power sectors off dirtier coal.

There are three liquefaction trains at Cameron. The first started producing LNG in mid-May. Sempra has said it expects Cameron 2 and 3 will enter service in the first and second quarters of 2020.

Cameron will produce about 12 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) of LNG, or roughly 1.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) of natural gas. One billion cubic feet of gas is enough to fuel about 5 million U.S. homes for a day.

When the U.S. sent out its first LNG cargo in February 2016, the country was not exporting any of the fuel.

Since then, the U.S. has become the world's fourth-biggest LNG exporter in 2018, behind Qatar, Australia and Malaysia, and is on track to overtake Malaysia and become the third biggest in 2019.

Just looking at terminals under construction, U.S. LNG export capacity is expected to jump to 7.4 Bcf/d by the end of 2019 and 10 Bcf/d in 2020 from 5.2 Bcf/d now.

Cameron is jointly owned by affiliates of Sempra, Total SA, Mitsui, and Japan LNG Investment LLC, a company jointly owned by Mitsubishi Corp. and Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha (NYK). Sempra indirectly owns 50.2% of Cameron.

McDermott International Inc. and Chiyoda Corp. are the lead contractors at Cameron.

Sempra has a long-term goal of exporting 45 mtpa of North American LNG and is developing a second two-train phase at Cameron, the Port Arthur LNG export terminal in Texas and plans to add export facilities in two phases at its existing Costa Azul LNG import terminal in Baja California in Mexico.

Saudi Aramco signed a 20-year agreement on May 22 to buy LNG from Sempra's proposed Port Arthur.