U.S. Natural Gas Disposition Increased in 2021, Driven by Exports
Note: Disposition means consumption, net exports, and net storage injections. Other end use includes vehicle fuel, pipeline and distribution use, lease use, and natural gas processing plant fuel.
Our most recent annual data for 2021 show that the net disposition of natural gas in the United States increased by 3.6% in 2021 compared with 2020 as a result of growth in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports. We define net disposition as consumption, net exports, and net storage. In 2021, however, consumption in all major U.S. end-use sectors declined relative to 2019, and consumption in both the electric and residential sectors was down relative to 2020.
U.S. natural gas exports established a new record in 2021, averaging 10.5 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d). This record volume was driven by record LNG exports, including significant growth in deliveries to both Asia and Europe. Growing volumes of U.S. LNG have been imported into Europe, in particular, to offset declines of pipeline imports from Russia and to build up storage inventories in Europe, which were low for much of the summer.
Natural gas consumption by the U.S. electric power sector was 2.7% lower in 2021 than in 2020, totaling 30.9 Bcf/d and 0.2% less than in 2019. The decrease may be largely related to weather; in 2021, cooling demand in buildings fell below 2020 and 2019 levels because of cooler-than-normal summer temperatures in both the South Atlantic and West South Central regions, the two largest natural gas-consuming regions in the electric power sector. Since 2010, natural gas consumption in the U.S. electric power sector has grown by 53% and accounted for about one-third of total U.S. natural gas consumption in 2021. Natural gas is the third-fastest growing fuel for generating power in the United States after solar and wind.
The industrial sector, which is the second-highest consumer of natural gas in the United States, increased its consumption slightly from 2020 to 2021, rising by 0.8% to 22.5 Bcf/d. In 2020, U.S. industrial natural gas consumption dropped because of reduced economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, elevated prices may have reduced industrial demand for natural gas, particularly in the latter half of the year. Overall, natural gas consumption in the industrial sector grew by 20% between 2010 and 2021.
Residential natural gas consumption has generally remained flat in the United States over the past decade, falling by 3% between 2010 and 2021. Commercial sector natural gas consumption has similarly remained fairly flat, increasing by 5% over those 11 years.
Natural gas consumption in the U.S. electric power sector has been setting new records in recent months. However, our Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) forecasts that natural gas consumption in the electric power sector will decline in 2023 relative to 2022. The trend toward growing natural gas exports also continued this year, and the United States became the world’s largest LNG exporter over the first six months of 2022. We forecast continuing growth in LNG exports in the STEO through 2023. Although storage stocks in Europe are now largely full, it will still require significant volumes of LNG in the coming months to maintain adequate wintertime supply now that Russia has largely cut off pipeline exports to Europe.
Principal contributor: Mike Kopalek