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SoCalGas Stunned by El Paso Capacity Shift

SoCalGas Stunned by El Paso Capacity Shift

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week told El Paso Natural Gas to continue full-steam ahead on its reallocation process at the Topock, AZ, delivery point into Southern California despite pleas by Southern California Gas that its ratepayers could suffer irreparable harm from the plan.

El Paso already has divided up its primary firm capacity at SoCal/Topock among 11 shippers and will implement the plan on Feb. 1.

SoCalGas claims it amounts to a robbery of its firm capacity at the border because it takes 540 MMcf/d of SoCal/Topock-specific delivery capacity and distributes it among three Topock delivery points --- one of which doesn't even feed into SoCalGas's distribution system --- and the Ehrenberg delivery point. SoCal will be left with 40%, or about 200 MMcf/d, of its original SoCal/Topock space.

Lad Lorenz, director of capacity and operational planning for SoCalGas, said last week in an interview that the utility's core load requires at least 350 MMcf/d at SoCal/Topock.

SoCalGas' customers "aren't in any real danger in terms of reliability," he said, "but they're in danger in terms of price. The San Juan Basin is still one of the most attractive basins from a price standpoint and that's why everyone wants the SoCalGas/Topock delivery point because it has the best access to San Juan Basin supplies rather than Permian Basin supplies. Our core customers now have less of that. SoCalGas now has to go to other more expensive basins to meet the needs of our customers." He said the company has not estimated the potential financial impact.

SoCalGas initially estimated its costs of complying with the order to be $50-$100 million, but that estimate turned out to be "significantly understated," it said in a Nov. 24 request for rehearing. The utility had requested a stay of the Commission order until March 31, 2001 to allow time to find available capacity and supply alternatives that would match up with its new delivery point rights.

"The request for stay through the winter months is even more critical," the utility told FERC. "As of this writing, spot basin-border differentials exceed $10/MMBtu, about 20 times the transport cost at the 'as billed' rate. Monthly indices indicate the basin-border differential to be in excess of $6/MMBtu. This transfer of wealth to El Paso and its affiliates will put severe economic and operational strain on El Paso customers and will threaten SoCalGas' system reliability."

"The price probably has tripled since we said that," said Lorenz last Friday. "Today, prices are over $15/MMBtu. It's way up there.

"I think it's too soon to tell what kind of market impact this is going to have," he said. "We've filed for rehearing. We hope they will act on that request and come to the right conclusion that the capacity should have been ours to begin with. If they deny our rehearing, we may indeed appeal that to the courts. We're also evaluating the order that they issued on clarification to see if El Paso conducted the auction process consistent with that order. We have some questions about that."

FERC's only consolation for SoCalGas was to push back the El Paso implementation deadline a month to Feb. 1. SoCal had complained that it needed at least until the end of March to evaluate delivery point alternatives and adjust its capacity and supply contracts.

FERC clarified some of the other issues in the reallocation process last week, but denied a request by Indicated Shippers to exclude certain shippers from the process, particularly El Paso's affiliate El Paso Merchant Energy and Williams Energy, who signed up for turnedback capacity at discounted rates in 1999.

FERC clarified that a replacement shipper could participate in the capacity election only if it had capacity that had been permanently released. Several shippers holding released capacity were outraged that they had been excluded from the process. Enron complained that the delivery point rights for its released capacity (released by SoCalGas) was being moved from SoCal/Topock to Mojave/Topock. Cook Inlet filed a similar protest.

El Paso's revised capacity allocation results, which were filed Nov. 21, put the 540 MMcf/d of firm delivery point rights at SoCal/Topock in the hands of 11 shippers: Aera Energy (7.4 MMcf/d), BP Energy (9.3 MMcf/d), Burlington (37.1), LADWP (13.4), El Paso Merchant Energy (143.6 in two packages), Oneok (7.4), Saquarno Power (7.4), SoCalGas (200.2), Texaco (64.9), US Borax & Chemical (7.1) and Williams Energy (42.2 in two packages). At SoCal/Ehrenberg the entire 1.2 Bcf/d was taken by 17 shippers. At the PG&E/Topock delivery point, 121.2 MMcf/d was left unsubscribed. SoCal/Mojave was fully committed at 400 MMcf/d, but Southwest Gas/Topock was left with 43 MMcf/d uncommitted.

Rocco Canonica

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