US natural gas consumption forecasted to drop in 2021 and 2022

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shale well drilling rig columbiana county
A shale gas well drilling rig in eastern Columbiana County in March 2021.

Domestic natural gas consumption is going to continue to fall through 2021 and 2022, according to government forecasts.

Though consumption in some sectors is expected to grow this year, overall natural gas use will likely drop, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s April Short-Term Energy Outlook.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects natural gas consumption to decrease by .3 billion cubic feet per day in 2021 and .9 billion cubic feet per day in 2022.

Consumption in 2020 was about 1.9 billion cubic feet per day lower than the all-time high set in 2019, but it was still the second highest annual amount of natural gas delivered to end users. An average of 75.8 billion cubic feet per day was consumed in 2020, compared with 77.6 billion cubic feet per day in 2019.

The drop in 2020 was due in part to the economic slowdown caused by COVID-19 and lower heating demand caused by milder temperatures. 

While some of that is expected to reverse in 2021 —  more heating demand and a stronger economy will lead to increased usage from the industrial, residential and commercial sectors — it won’t be enough to bring overall consumption back up, according to the forecast.

Electric power actually increased consumption in 2020. Electric power has been the largest consumer of natural gas for at least the last decade. More than 100 coal-fired power plants have been replaced or converted to natural gas since 2011, thanks to its abundance, low prices and stricter emissions standards.

But the electric power sector may use less natural gas this year and next because of higher prices and more renewable capacity coming online, according to the forecasts. 

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