The United States exported more natural gas than it imported in 2017, marking the first time since 1957 —the year that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik into orbit — that the U.S. has been a net natural gas exporter.

The transition occurred as U.S. natural gas production grew, reducing pipeline imports from Canada and increasing exports, both by pipeline and as liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that the U.S. passed Russia in 2009 as the world’s largest natural gas producer as shale gas production drove overall increases in natural gas production.

Most recently, production increases have been concentrated in the Appalachia region, primarily the Marcellus and Utica shales. EIA says that natural gas production reached an average of 73.6 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2017, a one percent increase from 2016 and slightly lower than the 2015 record level.

Source: EIASource: EIAAs new pipeline capacity comes online in the region, more natural gas can be delivered to regions in the Midwest and Northeast, displacing Canadian imports and increasing U.S. pipeline exports to Canada.

U.S. natural gas pipeline capacity into Mexico has also increased over the past few years, driven by growth in demand for natural gas from Mexico’s power sector and favorable prices compared with natural gas supplied by LNG shipments. EIA says that U.S.-Mexico natural gas pipeline capacity is 11.2 Bcf/d, with another 3.2 Bcf/d of capacity scheduled to be added later in 2018. Pipeline exports to Mexico have grown along with pipeline capacity, more than doubling since 2014 and averaging 4.2 Bcf/d in 2017.

U.S. LNG exports increased over the past two years as new liquefaction capacity has come online. The only liquefaction terminal previously operating in the United States — the Kenai LNG terminal in Alaska — ceased operations in 2015. In 2016, as the Sabine Pass LNG terminal in Louisiana began to ramp up operations, U.S. LNG exports increased, EIA says. Sabine Pass now has four operating liquefaction units, with a fifth under construction.

Source: EIASource: EIAThe Cove Point LNG facility in Maryland exported its first LNG cargo on March 1, 2018. Cove Point is the second currently operating LNG export facility in the U.S. Four other LNG projects are under construction and expected to increase U.S. liquefaction capacity from 3.6 Bcf/d to 9.6 Bcf/d by the end of 2019, further increasing U.S. natural gas exports.

EIA projects that the United States will be a net exporter of natural gas in each month remaining in 2018 and through 2019 as pipeline exports to Mexico continue to grow along with LNG export capacity.