U.S. Natural Gas Arrives in Lithuania

What It Means for Russia and the Baltic Region

Floating storage regasification unit (FSRU) "Independence" is docked at the liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Klaipeda port, Lithuania, October 2014. Ints Kalnins / REUTERS

The first-ever delivery of U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Lithuania on August 21 marks a significant turning point for both Vilnius’ and the greater Baltic region’s energy markets, where the Russian state company Gazprom has historically been the dominant gas supplier. It also reflects the new geopolitics of natural gas for Europe and especially for the United States, which only began exporting LNG worldwide in 2016. In an e-mail statement to me, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė wrote, “U.S. gas imports to Lithuania and other European countries is a game changer in the European gas market. This is an opportunity for Europe to end its addiction to Russian gas and ensure a secure, competitive and diversified supply.”

The LNG cargo arrived in Lithuania’s Klaipėda port from the Sabine Pass terminal in Texas, operated by Cheniere Energy, the leading U.S. LNG exporter. In 2016, the company launched its inaugural exports to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. In Europe, however, the deliveries were largely confined to Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom—until this June, when Poland received its first U.S. LNG shipment.

Although the United States was among the early players in the LNG industry, it was never a significant exporter until recently. Commissioned in 1969, the Kenai liquefaction plant in Alaska was the only operational American LNG export facility for over 40 years, even though it never exported notable amounts other than on one occasion to Japan in 1996. As recently as the mid-2000s, experts and investors expected that the United States would need to import gas, and private companies were planning to build additional LNG import terminals along the U.S. coast. The shale revolution and the resulting boost of U.S. oil and natural gas production, however, scrapped these plans and ushered in a new American energy boom.

Meanwhile, until Lithuania constructed its LNG import infrastructure in late 2014, the country depended on Russia for 100 percent of its natural gas, which was delivered by a

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