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Feb 24 (Reuters) - The long-awaited first liquefied natural gas exports from the lower 48 U.S. states will leave Cheniere Energy Inc's Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana on Wednesday, a senior company executive said.
That first cargo of about 3 billion cubic feet (bcf) of gas will go to Petrobras in Brazil, Meg Gentle, executive vice-president of marketing at Cheniere said on the sidelines of the CERAWeek conference in Houston.
"We'll be loading vessels over the next couple months," Gentle said, noting the company has six LNG vessels under charter, including the Clean Ocean, Oak Spirit and Creole Spirit in addition to the Asia Vision, which is moving the first cargo.
Another vessel not mentioned by Gentle is the Energy Atlantic, which has been waiting in the Gulf of Mexico since January, and is also expected to transport LNG from Sabine Pass, according to market sources.
Gentle said the average cost of chartering the tankers used to ship the gas that is super cooled into liquid form for transportation was about $45,000 per day.
With expected growth in pipeline exports to Mexico and LNG exports to the world, the United States expects to transition from a net importer of gas to a net exporter by 2017 as the nation's shale gas production continues to grow, according to federal energy forecasts.
This cargo from the first 0.65 bcf per day liquefaction train at Sabine Pass is a test cargo. Gentle said the company was still commissioning the facility.
"It's under Bechtel's control, they drive the schedule," she said, referring to the construction firm in charge of building Sabine Pass for Cheniere.
She said the company expects to be cash flow positive in late 2018 or 2019, noting they expect gas prices to remain below $3 for the "foreseeable future."
Gas prices at the Henry Hub benchmark in Louisiana averaged $2.61 per million British thermal units in 2015, the lowest annual average since 1999.
Liquefaction trains 2 to 5 are under construction at Sabine Pass. Analysts have said they would enter service between 2016 and 2019.
Cheniere plans to build six 0.65 bcfd trains at Sabine Pass. When all trains are operating, the plant will be able to liquefy up to 5 percent of the current U.S. gas production.
Cheniere stock was trading up $2.45, or about 8 percent, at $32.95 Wednesday afternoon. That is the highest level since mid January but is still well below its one-year high of $82.29 hit in March 2015. (Reporting by Luc Cohen in Houston and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)