U.S. Natural Gas Consumption. Projected natural gas consumption increases by an average 1.2 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2011 and 0.5 Bcf/d in 2012, with growth in the electric power and industrial sectors driving the increases (U.S. Natural Gas Consumption Chart). Projected natural gas consumption for electricity generation increases by 0.36 Bcf/d and 0.37 Bcf/d in 2011 and 2012, respectively. EIA expects consumption in the industrial sector to rise from 18.1 Bcf/d to 18.5 Bcf/d in 2011 and 18.6 Bcf/d in 2012, as the projected natural-gas-weighted industrial production index also continues to rise but at a slowing rate.
Natural gas consumption for the third quarter of 2011 averaged an estimated 57.9 Bcf/d, with consumption in the electric power sector making up almost half of the total. There were an estimated 942 cooling degree-days for the third quarter 2011, about 22 percent more than the 30-year normal, and above the 930 cooling degree-days for the record-breaking heat of the third quarter of 2010.
U.S. Natural Gas Production and Imports. EIA expects marketed natural gas production to average 66.0 Bcf/d in 2011, a 4.2 Bcf/d (6.7 percent) increase over 2010. The entirety of this growth is coming from increases in onshore production in the lower 48 States, which will more than offset a steep year-over-year decline of over 0.9 Bcf/d (15 percent) in the Federal Gulf of Mexico (GOM) and a small decline in Alaska. EIA expects that overall production will continue to grow in 2012, but at a slower pace, increasing 1.4 Bcf/d (2.1 percent) to an average of 67.4 Bcf/d.
Drilling activity has been resilient despite lower natural gas spot and futures prices. According to Baker Hughes, the September 30 rig count was 923 active drilling rigs targeting natural gas, up from this year's low of 866 on May 20. If drilling continues to increase, production could grow more than expected in 2012.
Growing domestic natural gas production has reduced reliance on natural gas imports and contributed to increased exports. EIA expects that pipeline gross imports of natural gas will fall by 4.8 percent to 8.6 Bcf/d during 2011 and by another 3.1 percent to 8.4 Bcf/d in 2012. Projected U.S. imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) fall from 1.2 Bcf/d in 2010 to 0.9 Bcf/d in 2011 and to 0.7 Bcf/d in 2012. Pipeline gross exports to Mexico and Canada are expected to average 4.1 Bcf/d in 2011 and 4.2 Bcf/d in 2012, compared with 3.1 Bcf/d in 2010.