From a mile away, at the distant end of a flat, two-lane road, the Sabine Pass Liquefied Natural Gas terminal materializes like an alien city from the haze of the Louisiana bayou. Five white cylinders with domed tops, each 140 feet tall and 225 feet in diameter, rise from the empty horizon. Set on the Texas border 4 miles from the mouth of the Sabine River on the Gulf Coast, the terminal is one of the largest industrial energy facilities under construction in North America. The domes, made of nickel alloy and wrapped in a layer of carbon steel, are essentially giant freezers, each capable of holding 81,000 tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) at -260F.
Cheniere Energy, based in Houston, has spent more than a decade, and upwards of $20 billion, turning 1,000 acres of swamp into the first LNG export terminal in the continental U.S. When the terminal goes live later this year, it will change the dynamics of the energy market in North America. The U.S. will be on its way to becoming a net exporter of natural gas. About 700 million cubic feet of the stuff will begin arriving each day from all over the country—from Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and as far away as North Dakota—to this spot at the end of America’s natural gas pipeline network.