Aug. 9 (UPI) -- The United States could be the third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas in the world by the end of the decade, a short-term federal report found.
Thanks in large part to shale operations, the United States in 2009 passed Russia to become the largest natural gas producer in the world. Most of the transport, however, is contained within North America.
In 2016, the last full year for which the U.S. government reported data, natural gas made up about 34 percent of total domestic electricity generation, followed by coal with 30 percent. Renewable energy that year accounted for about 15 percent of the total mix, though renewable energy momentum has since accelerated.
There's only one facility in the United States with the necessary permits to export gas in the super-cooled liquid form. The company that runs it, Cheneire Energy, made a European debut in June when it shipped LNG to Polish Oil & Gas, known by its acronym PGNiG.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said it expects LNG exports to increase as more capacity comes online. Five new projects will be in service within the next three years and expand the U.S. capacity to process LNG from 1.4 billion cubic feet per day as of last year to 9.5 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2019.
"Based on construction plans, EIA expects that by 2020 the United States will have the third-largest LNG export capacity in the world after Australia and Qatar," the report read.
Export capacity and real export volumes depend, however, on a variety of factors. The EIA report said actual utilization of LNG from the U.S. depends on the rate of LNG demand growth and competition from other suppliers.
European leaders have said LNG sourced from U.S. shale basins could present a source of diversity with the right infrastructure in place. With U.S. President Donald Trump stepping away from the free-trade deals that would facilitate LNG exports, the U.S. prospects face further headwinds.
Without mentioning the United States in particular, Cecilia Malmstrom, the trade commissioner for the European Union, said "the scourge of protectionism" may create issues for multilateral trade. The head of German energy company Wintershall, a partner with Russia, said after Trump signed off on new Kremlin sanctions the United States should avoid playing "geopolitical football" with the European energy sector.
Asian economies, meanwhile, are taking on more LNG as their demands increase. The Korea Gas Corp. commenced a 20-year sales and purchase agreement with Cheniere Energy Inc. in June and in May, the Commerce Department made a decision to allow China, which doesn't have a free-trade agreement with the United States, to receive LNG.