(Bloomberg) — U.S. natural gas is flowing out of the country at a record pace, helping to ease a supply glut at home while tumbling prices for the fuel entice overseas buyers.
When the liquefied natural gas tanker Ribera Del Duero Knutsen left Cheniere Energy Inc.’s Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana late Tuesday, it became the 18th ship to depart the terminal in May. That’s the highest monthly total since the first vessel sailed from the facility last year.
Natural gas from American shale basins is flooding the global market, reaching customers from China to the Dominican Republic, and more is on the way as Cheniere prepares to start up a fourth plant at Sabine Pass. The shipments are putting the U.S. on the path to becoming a net gas exporter by next year — a welcome development for the nation’s gas bulls, who need exports to bolster prices as mild weather leaves a stubborn stockpile glut intact.
“The pace of exports is pretty impressive,” Jason Feer, head of business intelligence at ship broker Poten & Partners Inc. in Houston, said in a telephone interview. Cheniere “has been able to place cargoes with relatively little trouble and to a pretty wide variety of customers.”
The reputation that Cheniere is building now as a reliable provider of LNG may help it weather a tougher market over the next few years a global surplus of the fuel balloons, Feer said. While Asia has stepped up imports of U.S. gas since last winter, Mexico and Latin America have also been among the biggest buyers. American cargoes have gone to Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, a notable development given that nearby Qatar is the world’s largest LNG exporter.
In Europe, most of the shipments out of Sabine Pass have landed in the southern regions of the continent, from the Iberian peninsula to Italy and Turkey. Ribera Del Duero Knutsen is heading for Portugal, according to vessel tracking data compiled by Bloomberg.
Though Cheniere is currently the only exporter of LNG from the lower 48 states, Dominion Energy Inc. is scheduled to bring its Cove Point export terminal in Maryland online by the end of the year. By 2020, the U.S. is poised to become the world’s third-largest operator of LNG export facilities after Australia and Qatar.
A spokesman for Cheniere couldn’t be reached for comment.
Bloomberg News by Naureen S. Malik and Kevin Varley