Exports, industrial use will drive US natural gas market: EIA

By Jack Burke16 February 2021

Gas prices expected to remain low

The growth in the US natural gas market will be driven by exports and industrial use between 2020-50, according to a report by the US Energy Information Agency (EIA).

The report sees consumption of natural gas from other sectors, including power gen, will remain relatively flat over the same period.

U.S. natural gas production will increase to 43.0 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) in 2050 as consumption increases to 35.7 Tcf.

“EIA expects natural gas prices will remain low compared with historical levels, and that low price drives the AEO2021 Reference case’s projection of increased production,” the report states. “EIA expects that exports will rise as production outpaces consumption throughout the projection period.”

Natural gas consumption by the industrial sector will increase by 3.6 Tcf, or 35%, from 2020 to 2050 and account for more than 75% of the 4.6 Tcf growth in U.S. natural gas consumption from all sectors during that period, according to the EIA. Relatively low natural gas prices drive a growing U.S. chemicals industry, the largest domestic natural gas-consuming industry because it uses natural gas as a raw material (feedstock) as well as for heat and power. The bulk chemical industry will account for 45% of the industrial sector’s increased natural gas consumption, or 1.6 Tcf, through 2050.

Natural gas consumption in the U.S. power sector will reach 12.1 Tcf in 2050, up 0.4 Tcf (4%) from 2020. In 2020, natural gas consumption in the power sector increased by 4% from 2019 to 11.7 Tcf because of relatively low natural gas prices and COVID-19-related disruptions in the power sector’s coal supplies. Amid higher natural gas prices in 2021, EIA projects that consumption of natural gas by the power sector will decrease by 16% to 9.9 Tcf. Natural gas consumption will then increase slowly until 2027 because of projected growth in natural gas-fired generation and because of new, more energy-efficient combined-cycle turbine systems. Beyond 2036, EIA projects that consumption of natural gas in the U.S. power sector will continue to steadily increase.

The AEO2021 projects growth in natural gas consumption by other end-use sectors as well. Beyond 2040, natural gas consumption in the U.S. transportation sector increases as natural gas becomes a more predominant fuel for heavy-duty vehicles and freight rail. The residential sector’s natural gas consumption remains nearly flat, and commercial buildings show low-to-moderate growth because of energy efficiency improvements (particularly commercial energy management controls and sensors) in space heating.

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