U.S. LNG exports on track to hit record high in March

FILE PHOTO: Snow covered transfer lines leading to storage tanks at the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in Lusby, Maryland, March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

(Reuters) - U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are on track to hit record highs in March as tumbling shipping rates and lower prices than in Europe and Asia continue to attract buyers.

The amount of gas flowing to U.S. LNG export plants has averaged 10.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) so far in March, according to Refinitiv. That compares with a four-month low of 8.5 bcfd in February, when extreme cold cut power and gas supplies to the facilities, and a monthly record high of 10.7 bcfd in December.

“The rebound in U.S. LNG is...supported by falling freight rates in the Atlantic Basin, which dizzyingly fell from $322,000 per day two months (ago) to just $21,000 per day,” analysts at data intelligence firm Kpler said in a report.

LNG prices in Europe and Asia remain much higher than in America, making U.S. gas competitive even when taking shipping into account.

On a daily basis, U.S. LNG feedgas was on track to reach 11.4 bcfd on Friday, which would top the 11.3-bcfd record in mid-December, according to preliminary data from Refinitiv.

However, traders say U.S. LNG exports cannot rise much more until new units enter service in 2022, as the country currently only has the capacity to export about 10.5 bcfd. LNG plants can pull in a little more gas than they can export.

Government projections show U.S. LNG exports rising to 8.3 bcfd in 2021 and 9.2 bcfd in 2022 from a record 6.5 bcfd in 2020.

As new facilities are built, U.S. LNG exports have hit fresh record highs every year since Cheniere Energy Inc’s Sabine Pass in Louisiana entered service in 2016.

The government expects the pace of growth to remain high but slow in coming years from 68% in 2019 to 31% in 2020 to 27% in 2021 and 11% in 2022.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Kirsten Donovan