U.S. frackers are about to change the last 60 years of history by making the U.S. a net natural gas exporter beginning next year, the federal government said Tuesday.
"For the first time since 1957, the United States is on track to export more natural gas than it imports," said Adam Sieminski, the director of the Energy Information Administration, as he released the latest monthly energy forecast. "This will occur during the second half of next year as more liquefied natural gas export capacity comes online."
He said that will occur as the nation's increasingly abundant supply of shale gas feeds domestic and international demand.
"Although U.S. natural gas exports are increasing, there are still abundant supplies to meet domestic demand as natural gas inventories are expected to be at a record high for the start of the upcoming winter heating season," Sieminski said.
The enormous boom in natural gas production is due to the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has made the U.S. a top global energy producer in a relatively short period.
Sieminski said the price of natural gas is expected to edge upward slightly over the next year. Although natural gas will continue to dominate as the nation's leading producer of electricity, the higher prices will drive up the use of coal-fired power plants for electricity production in regions of the country where it is more cost competitive.
Coal has been on the wane, and natural gas power plants now provide the largest share of the nation's power production because gas is cheaper and more cost competitive. Coal is still the second-most used fuel for electricity production in the nation.
"While more U.S electricity will still be generated by natural gas than coal in 2017, coal's share of electricity generation is expected to increase next year in response to rising natural gas prices," Sieminski said.
The July short-term forecast also shows a new surge in hydroelectric power coming online later this year after a half-decade of production remaining flat.
"The amount of electricity generated by hydropower is expected to increase in 2016 for the first time in five years," Sieminski said.