1 August 2012 – A growing dependence on natural gas will see the US introduce 27 new storage sites by the end of 2016, according to international energy analyst GlobalData. As the US plans to generate up to 80% of its electricity through gas-fired plants by 2035, the working capacity of its underground storage network will increase from 4,650,122 million cubic feet (MMcf) in 2011 to 4,970,022 MMcf by 2016.

According to GlobalData’s 2011 figures, the US already has the largest number of active underground gas storage sites in the world, with 405. US production of natural gas has increased significantly over recent years due to the exploitation of shale plays, even leading to overproduction in 2011 and a resulting price drop.

The boost in production has prompted plans in the US to hugely improve natural gas pipeline infrastructure, which will in turn create demand for storage sites necessary to maintain the reliability of the pipelines.

As natural gas cannot be utilised immediately upon production it must be stored underground for a period. The bulk of this is stored in depleted oil and gas field type sites (84.8% in 2011), but this is set to change as alternative salt cavern type sites become more prevalent due to the faster rate at which gas can be withdrawn. This proliferation of natural gas storage sites during 2011 to 2016 will favour the salt cavern varieties, which will take a share of 70.4% of the total planned gas storage sites in north America during this period. These more efficient locations will make up 19 of the 27 new storage sites expected by 2016.