The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has projected that, for the first time since the 1950s, the US will export more energy than it imports by 2020 as increases in crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas plant liquids production outpace growth in US energy consumption.
Different assumptions about crude oil prices and resource extraction affect how long EIA projects that the US will export more energy than it imports.
The US has been a net exporter of coal and coke for decades, began exporting more natural gas than it imports in 2017, and is projected to export more petroleum and other liquids than it imports within the decade.
The US has imported more energy than it exports on an annual basis since 1953, when trade volumes were much smaller. Since then, when imports of energy totalled 2.3 quadrillion Btu, gross energy imports generally grew, reaching a peak of 35 quadrillion Btu in 2005. Gross energy exports were as low as 4 quadrillion Btu as recently as 2002 but have since risen to more than 20 quadrillion Btu in 2018, largely because of changes in liquid fuels and natural gas trade.
EIA’s projected changes in net energy trade are driven mostly by evolving trade flows of liquid fuels and natural gas. In the Reference case of EIA’s newly released Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), the US exports more petroleum and other liquids than it imports after 2020 as US crude oil production increases and domestic consumption of petroleum products decreases. Near the end of the projection period, the US returns to importing more petroleum and other liquids than it exports on an energy basis as a result of increasing domestic gasoline consumption and falling domestic crude oil production in those years.
US natural gas trade in the AEO Reference case, which includes shipments by pipeline from and to Canada and to Mexico as well as exports of LNG, is increasingly dominated by LNG exports to more distant destinations. Increasing natural gas exports to Mexico are a result of more pipeline infrastructure to and within Mexico, allowing for increased natural gas-fired power generation. As natural gas demand grows in Asia and US natural gas prices remain competitive, LNG export capacity increases further before levelling off after 2030 when additional suppliers enter the global LNG market and US LNG is no longer as competitive. EIA projects the difference between natural gas exports and imports to increase throughout the AEO projection period, reaching a high of 23 billion ft3day in 2050.
The US continues to export more coal than it imports (including coal coke) through 2050 in the Reference case, but coal exports do not increase because of competition from other global suppliers closer to major world markets. Trade of electricity with neighbouring Canada and Mexico is a relatively small part of US net energy trade flows.
In the AEO Reference case, which reflects current laws and regulations, the US begins exporting more energy than it imports on an annual basis in 2020 and maintains that status through 2050. In some side cases, the US again imports more energy than it exports by the mid- to late-2030s.
In the AEO’s Low Oil Price case, lower crude oil prices lead to lower crude oil and natural gas production, and the United States returns to importing more energy than it exports by 2035. Similarly, in the Low Oil and Gas Resource and Technology case, crude oil and natural gas production is lower than in the Reference case, and the US becomes a net energy importer again in 2039.
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