The United States produced, consumed, and exported record volumes of natural gas last year, following years of rising output due to fracking and horizontal drilling, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Friday.

According to EIA’s estimates, domestic production of dry natural gas rose to nearly 34 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) while consumption increased to 31 Tcf in 2019, setting records.

Exports also rose to record levels last year, thanks to growing production and more liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals coming online.

In 2019, the United States exported a record level of nearly 5 Tcf of natural gas, predominantly by pipeline to Mexico and Canada or shipped overseas as LNG, the EIA said. Natural gas imports, on the other hand, dropped to their lowest levels since 2015.

U.S. natural gas exports surpassed imports in 2017 for the first time since 1957.

This year, however, higher stocks, the demand collapse from the pandemic, and the low natural gas prices are set to result in declines in American natural gas production. The supply of natural gas in the U.S. has been dropping this year as gas producers lower production amid low prices while oil producers scale back oil output and with it – associated natural gas production from oil-directed wells.  

Natural gas prices plunged to a 25-year-low at the end of last month, due to continued weakness in demand.

In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) from this week, the EIA predicts that U.S. consumption will decrease by 3.1 percent in 2020 before decreasing by an additional 4.5 percent in 2021. Consumption of natural gas by the industrial sector is set to drop by 6.2 percent this year, due to the measures to contain the epidemic.

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Production is expected to drop by 3.2 percent year on year in 2020, due to a sharp drop in drilling activity because of low natural gas prices and production curtailments.

The EIA expects the low point in natural gas production to occur in the second quarter of 2021 at an average of 83.3 Bcf/d, which would be down by 13.2 percent from the Q4 2019 peak. Toward the end of 2021, production should start rising due to higher prices and more favorable economic conditions, the EIA says.  

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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