US exports of liquefied natural gas set a record high in 2021, averaging 9.7 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), according to the most recent ‘Natural gas Monthly’ report from the US Energy Information Administration. LNG exports increased by 50% from 2020. The increase was driven by increased demand in both Europe and Asia, particularly China, and by expanding US liquefaction capacity. In 2021, liquefaction at the six US LNG export terminals averaged 102% of nameplate (nominal) capacity and 89% of peak capacity, according to EIA estimates.
In 2021, US exports to Asia increased by 1.5 Bcf/d (51%). That year the USA became the third-largest LNG supplier to Asia, accounting for 12% of all its LNG imports, after Australia (29%) and Qatar (21%), according to EIA estimates.
South Korea and China were the top two destinations for US LNG exports, at 1.2 Bcf/d each. The increase in exports to China (by 0.6 Bcf/d) was the largest increase among all destinations last year. Since China lowered import tariffs on LNG from the USA from 25% to 10% in 2019, US LNG imports into China have increased. Japan was the third-largest importer from the USA in 2021, at 1.0 Bcf/d. Combined, these three countries accounted for 35% of all the USA’s LNG exports in 2021.
European countries (including Turkey) were the destination for 3.3 Bcf/d of LNG imported from the United States during 2021—an increase of 0.8 Bcf/d (32%) compared with 2020. LNG exports to Europe increased in March and April 2021 following a cold winter in Europe, which significantly reduced the region’s natural gas held in storage. Exports to Europe declined in subsequent months as higher spot prices in Asia attracted larger volumes of flexible LNG supplies.
During the fourth quarter of 2021, US LNG exports to Europe increased again as Europe’s natural gas storage inventories remained low and spot prices for natural gas in Europe exceeded those in Asia. The United States exported 6.7 Bcf/d of LNG to Europe in December 2021 – a record volume that has since been overtaken – in both January and February 2022.
LNG exports to Brazil increased by 0.5 Bcf/d in 2021 compared with 2020, averaging 0.8 Bcf/d on an annual basis. Last year, Brazil experienced its worst drought in more than 90 years, which limited hydroelectric power generation and led to more consumption of natural gas for electricity generation.