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Winter LNG demand to keep Sabine Pass utilization 'well above' 90%, EIA says

Cheniere Energy Inc.'s Sabine Pass LNG terminal will use "well above" 90% of its export capacity in the coming winter amid strong demand and high spot LNG prices in Asia and Europe, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

Since a fourth train ramped up in September and October, the Louisiana facility has averaged 96% capacity utilization across its four liquefaction units, the EIA said in its Dec. 7 "Today in Energy" note. Overall usage is expected to average 80% in 2017 and 79% in 2018, according to the EIA's Short-Term Energy Outlook.

With four trains online, Sabine Pass can liquefy 2.8 Bcf/d. A fifth, expected to enter service in August 2019, would bring the facility's capacity to 3.5 Bcf/d, according to the EIA.

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Capacity utilization for the first two trains at Sabine Pass averaged 51% in 2016, the EIA said. Though capacity increased in 2017 with the addition of trains 3 and 4, lower spring demand in Asia and Europe and disruptions following Hurricane Harvey limited total use.

U.S. LNG export capacity is set to grow in 2018 with the addition of at least two new liquefaction and export terminals.

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Dominion Energy Inc. recently introduced feed gas to its 0.75-Bcf/d Cove Point facility, which is expected to enter service before the end of the year. Kinder Morgan Inc. is scheduled to bring online six of its 0.03-Bcf/d modular trains in the summer of 2018, with four additional units entering service by May 2019. The developer of the Freeport LNG facility has said it plans to have all three of its 0.7-Bcf/d trains in service some time between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the third quarter of 2019, though the company is still working with its contractor to assess impacts from Hurricane Harvey.

Those projects, plus new capacity from Cheniere's Corpus Christi terminal in Texas and Sempra Energy's Cameron LNG in Louisiana, would bring total U.S. LNG export capacity to 9.6 Bcf/d by the end of 2019, the EIA said.