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Between Mont Belvieu and the Deep Blue Sea, Part 3 - Can U.S. LPG Export Terminals Keep Up?

U.S. production of natural gas liquids is projected to increase by 17% this year, and by another 10% in 2020, according to RBN’s forecast. These gains will result in similar increases in the output of propane and normal butane — two NGL purity products generally referred to as LPG — and, with U.S. demand for LPG expected to stay relatively flat, most of the incremental volumes will be sent to export terminals for shipment to foreign buyers. The question is, will the nine U.S. marine terminals that are equipped to send out LPG have enough capacity to handle the much-higher flows? Today, we continue our series with a review of four smaller export terminals along the Gulf and East coasts.

This is the third and penultimate episode in our series in which we’ve been discussing the U.S.’s flip from net LPG importer to net exporter seven years ago and the challenges presented by fast-growing propane/butane export volumes. As we said in Part 1, waterborne LPG exports soared to an average of more than 1.1 MMb/d in 2018, with about 92% of those volumes being sent out of the half-dozen LPG terminals in coastal Texas and Louisiana. The rest of the exports-by-ship are flowing through a total of three smaller terminals in the Mid-Atlantic region and Pacific Northwest. We concluded Part 1 with a review of the Gulf Coast’s — and the U.S.’s — largest LPG export facility: the Enterprise Hydrocarbon Terminal (EHT; dark blue dot and lettering in Figure 1), which is located on the Houston Ship Channel and whose capacity is in the midst of being expanded to 720 Mb/d from the current 545 Mb/d. According to our NGL Voyager report, EHT sent out an average of 447 Mb/d of LPG last year, or about 40% of total U.S. LPG exports by ship.

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