Natural gas liquefication dates back to the 19th century, when British chemist and physicist Michael Faraday experimented with liquefying different types of gases, including natural gas. German engineer Karl van Linde built the first practical compressor refrigerator machine in Munich in 1873.
The first liquefied natural gas plant was built in West Virginia in 1912, while the first commercial liquefication plant was built in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1941. The LNG was stored in insulated tanks at atmospheric pressure.
Today there are more than 110 production, transport and storage facilities across the country.
Liquefying natural gas made it possible to transport the fuel to distant destinations. In January 1959, the world's first LNG tanker, the Methane Pioneer (a converted World War II Liberty freighter) carried liquefied natural gas from Lake Charles, La., to Canvey Island, United Kingdom. This voyage demonstrated that large quantities of liquefied natural gas could be transported safely across the ocean. The Methane Pioneer subsequently carried seven additional LNG cargoes to Canvey Island.
In 1964, the British Gas Council began importing liquefied natural gas from Algeria, making the United Kingdom the world's first LNG importer and Algeria its first exporter. After the concept was shown to work in the United Kingdom, additional marine LNG liquefication plants and import terminals were built in both the Atlantic and Pacific regions.
U.S. natural gas companies built four marine liquefied natural gas terminals between 1971 and 1980: Lake Charles, La., Everett, Mass., Elba Island, Ga., and Cove Point, Md.
After receiving a peak receipt volume of 253 billion cubic feet (BCF) in 1979 (which represented 1.3 percent of U.S. gas demand), LNG imports declined for two reasons:
One was because deregulation led to increasing North American domestic natural gas production. The second was because of price disputes with Algeria, then the sole LNG provider to the United States. Elba Island and Cove Point were mothballed in 1980 and Lake Charles and Everett suffered from very low utilization.
The first exports of liquefied natural gas from the United States to Asia occurred in 1969, with Alaskan LNG being sent to Japan from the Kenai Peninsula LNG plant. The LNG market in Europe and Asia continued to grow rapidly from that point on.
In 1999, the first Atlantic Basin LNG liquefication plant came on line in Trinidad and Tobago. This event, combined with increasing U.S. natural gas demand, particularly for electric power generation and increasing natural gas prices, resulted in renewed interest in liquefied natural gas for the American market.
As a result, the two mothballed U.S. liquefied natural gas receiving terminals were reactivated, Elba Island in 2001 and Dominion Cove Point in 2003.
In 2005, an offshore facility, Gulf Gateway Energy Bridge, was added in the Gulf of Mexico to allow for additional imports. At this terminal, LNG is regasified on board an LNG ship connected to a pipeline, sending the natural gas to shore.
In recent years, another offshore facility, Northeast Gateway, was opened offshore from Boston. Two onshore facilities were added, one in Freeport, Texas, and the other in Sabine, Louisiana. In addition, there is an export facility facility in Kenai, Alaska.