Net exports of U.S. natural gas doubled for the second year in a row, according to data released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

Between January and June, net exports of natural gas averaged about 4.1 billion cubic feet per day, up from about 2 billion cubic feet per day during the first half of 2018. The U.S. began exporting more natural gas than it imported in 2017. Total exports of liquified natural gas were up 37% between the first six months of this year compared to 2018. 

While natural gas is still exported by pipeline to Mexico and Canada, much of the uptick in exports is tied to terminals where tankers are filled with supercooled natural gas known as LNG and shipped around the world. Louisiana already produces the majority of U.S. LNG exported around the world and that dominance is expected to grow exponentially if all the planned projects come online.

Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass export terminal had been the sole exporter of LNG until early 2018 when Cove Point in Maryland came online. The Sabine Pass facility is still the largest single exporter with about 3 billion cubic feet per day exported as of June. That same month, Cheniere made a final investment decision to move forward with its sixth train which will add more capacity at its site. 

Cameron LNG's first train came online earlier this year and it's the fourth largest LNG export facility in the country.

Much like how the Mississippi River has drawn petrochemical companies to its banks, Calcasieu Ship Channel which connects Lake Charles to the Gulf of Mexico, has been a magnet for LNG export terminals. 

"This is just the beginning. We have seen a lot of construction workers, our retail sales are up and as more permanent workers come on we've seen more housing being built," said George Swift, chief executive officer of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance.

Hotel and occupancy tax collections in Calcasieu Parish hit $7.9 million in fiscal 2019, compared to $7.1 million in fiscal 2018. 

Most noticeably, traffic has increased on roadways in the region. About 500 permanent jobs and thousands of construction jobs have been supported by the LNG terminals, he said. 

"We're going to be the center of LNG exports for the world...but without the ship channel we wouldn't be a candidate for LNG," Swift said. "The outlook for LNG is still very good, there have been some times where there was a glut of LNG but the projections are that we'll see a shortage in several years." 

The Lake Charles metro area is projected to add 4,000 jobs in 2019 and another 5,300 jobs in 2020 which is the fastest growth rate in Louisiana - much of which is driven by LNG projects though most of which have not yet begun construction. 

"Although our area is kind of in a 'lull' at the moment, we are awaiting new projects to come online and current projects to ramp up employment," said Daniel Groft, director of the H.C. Drew Center for Business and Economic Analysis at McNeese State University.

In Cameron Parish alone, there were more than 10,000 construction workers employed in 2017 which has dropped slightly in 2018 and continues to decline until the next construction boom.  

"While much of this has been due to (temporary) construction employment, as operations have begun we have seen some growth in other industries," Groft said. 

There were 10 LNG projects pitched in Louisiana between Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes on the southwestern side of state - only Cheniere's terminal and Cameron LNG are exporting natural gas to date.

The next LNG export terminal in Louisiana likely to come online is the Venture Global LNG Calcasieu project which began construction this year after securing financing. Commercial operations are set to begin by 2022.

Driftwood LNG, Magnolia LNG and Commonwealth LNG have not begun construction and are in various stages of the permitting process. 

In September, Lake Charles LNG requested federal regulators to delay its project for five years and expects to convert an existing LNG import facility to an export facility by 2025. Delfin LNG, which is a proposed floating LNG terminal in the Gulf of Mexico, has not yet made a final investment decision but expects to in 2020. 

Two more proposed export terminals, G2 LNG and Monkey Island LNG have not yet announced financing for those projects. 

On the southeastern side of the state, there are four more LNG export terminals planned but none have started construction yet either. 

In Plaquemines Parish, Delta LNG, Venture Global Plaquemines and Pointe LNG are expected to be built in the coming years. In Lafourche Parish, Port Fourchon LNG is still in the works. 

The LSU Center for Energy Studies estimates all the LNG projects could be nearly $100 billion in capital investment. The Louisiana Energy Export Association, a lobbying group for LNG, estimates that its members expect to invest $60 billion in the state economy over the next 10 years with more than 20,000 construction jobs supported and 1,500 full-time jobs at the LNG terminals once completed.

Acadiana Business Today: Louisiana leads nation in natural gas as net exports double, Lake Charles metro sees most gains; Former Posado's Cafe building sold for $2.05 million to Carencro development company

Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.