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December 2018 gas flows to US LNG plants stayed strong as new trains tested

Daily natural gas flows to the three U.S. liquefied natural gas export plants remained at near-record levels in December 2018 as the owner of two of them, Cheniere Energy Inc., continued commissioning work on two new trains that the company has said it expects to bring into commercial service in early 2019.

Total average gas deliveries to the U.S. LNG facilities reached nearly 4.26 Bcf/d during December 2018, a slight dip from nearly 4.3 Bcf/d the month before, S&P Global Market Intelligence pipeline flow data showed. The November 2018 figure had topped the previous all-time record high of more than 3.5 Bcf/d set in April 2018.

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With the commissioning of its first train, due in commercial service in early 2019, Cheniere's Corpus Christi facility in Texas recently became the third large-scale LNG export facility to start up in the Lower 48. It shipped its first cargo on Dec. 11, 2018, after producing its first LNG on Nov. 14, 2018. And scheduled volumes on the single line delivering gas to the terminal over December 2018 totaled more than 11.9 Bcf, S&P Global Market Intelligence pipeline-flow data showed. Average daily flows increased to about 0.38 Bcf/d from about 0.36 Bcf/d in that time period.

For the two major LNG plants in commercial service in the U.S., Cheniere's Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana and Dominion Energy Inc.'s Cove Point terminal in Maryland, the total average daily gas delivery was nearly 3.9 Bcf/d in December 2018, nearly reaching the volume from the previous month.

The combined total monthly scheduled gas transportation capacity for pipelines feeding the Corpus Christi, Sabine Pass and Cove Point terminals was about 132.1 Bcf in December 2018. The total monthly scheduled capacity for the lines to Sabine Pass and Cove Point was about 120.2 Bcf in December 2018, up from 118.1 Bcf in November 2018.

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At Sabine Pass, Cheniere started producing LNG on a fifth train in late October 2018 and continued commissioning activities in December 2018.

Flows on two of the three operating pipelines into Sabine Pass increased during the month. Scheduled deliveries on Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America LLC decreased about 19% from November 2018 to December 2018. But flows on Cheniere Creole Trail Pipeline LP and Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC each increased by about 4%.

Flows on the Cove Point pipeline to the terminal decreased about 1% from November 2018 to December 2018. But monthly scheduled capacity on the pipeline totaled nearly 23.4 Bcf in December 2018, up from about 22.7 Bcf the previous month.

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Total gas flows for December 2018 to Sabine Pass were about 96.8 Bcf, up from about 95.4 Bcf in November 2018.

Cove Point exported its first commissioning cargo of LNG in March 2018 and entered commercial service in April 2018. The single Cove Point train is capable of producing 5.25 million tonnes per annum of LNG, or roughly 0.8 Bcf/d.

Sabine Pass shipped its first cargo in early 2016. The five trains at the facility each have a capacity of 4.5 mtpa, or about 0.7 Bcf/d, the same as the train at Corpus Christi.

On Nov. 29, 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorized a Kinder Morgan Inc. pipeline unit to place into service more facilities designed to serve the Sabine Pass expansion.

Flows at Corpus Christi are also expected to further increase in 2019. Cheniere recently received approval from FERC to introduce fuel gas and begin testing fuel gas systems on a second 4.5-mtpa train at the Corpus Christi terminal. And Cheniere has said work on the second train is progressing on an accelerated schedule, with substantial completion expected in the second half of 2019.

Construction has begun on a third train of the same size at Corpus Christi.

In addition to the three trains at Corpus Christi, Cheniere has proposed a Stage 3 expansion project that would add seven smaller liquefaction trains, each with a capacity of roughly 1.4 mtpa. The expansion would also include another pipeline feeding gas to the terminal. The 21-mile-long and 42-inch-diameter pipeline would run parallel to the existing 48-inch-diameter Corpus Christi pipeline, a Cheniere spokesman said. The extra line would deliver about 1.5 Bcf/d of gas from a Corpus Christi pipeline compressor station to the new LNG facilities. Cheniere units applied to FERC for the expansion in June 2018. (FERC docket PF15-26)

"We are pleased that FERC provided an accelerated timeline for the environmental review of CCL Stage 3, and we anticipate a final order authorizing construction in the second half of this year," the Cheniere spokesman said.

Cheniere has asked FERC to approve the expansion by late June 2019 with an eye toward beginning exports by 2022.

As it stands, the U.S. LNG industry is in the midst of a major ramp up. The industry is on track to more than double the LNG export capacity of 3.6 Bcf/d that was reached when Cove Point came online early in 2018, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA expected the capacity to end 2018 at 4.9 Bcf/d because of the two new trains being commissioned at the Cheniere export facilities.

The EIA said Jan. 7 that continuing growth of U.S. LNG exports, along with increased pipeline exports to Mexico, resulted in the U.S. exporting more natural gas than it imported in 2018 for the second year in a row.

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