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Wood: FERC Can Do More to Increase Flow of Gas Data to Public

Wood: FERC Can Do More to Increase Flow of Gas Data to Public

Are there additional steps that federal energy regulators can take to get more gas-related data, such as storage information, out to the public? You bet, said FERC Chairman Patrick Wood in a press briefing in Washington, DC, last Wednesday.

"Here it is, a very competitive industry, but because of the inability of everybody to trust everybody else, the government has assumed a role in providing some critical information," Wood said. "It's certainly not a world set up that I would prefer...but it is one that's a needed role to provide storage information to the marketplace and the only way we can get that is to have people provide it to a trusted, neutral aggregator of that data, which EIA [Energy Information Administration] is doing."

Wood said that the "question is should we do that more often than weekly? EIA's said they can't do that more often than weekly so is there something the Commission can do that while not perfect, can get more information out there? I think we can."

Wood noted that FERC last year convened a meeting to address the question of "is there some other way we can get some of the storage data, is there some other way we can get LNG data, some of these others -- is there just more data we can get into the market. When I worked 12 years ago for Jerry Langdon, who was a Commissioner at FERC at the time, he was head of the deliverability task force to try to get more information from the production areas," he noted.

"That's the golden egg, if we can get that. If you can get more real-time information coming out of the Wyoming area, out of Texas, out of Louisiana, Oklahoma. They get data, quite good data, from their historic commissions, but those are usually ninety days late. That's timely enough to render royalty checks to the state and to the royalty owners, but it certainly doesn't help get a lot of real time information to the market."

The FERC chairman said that storage data "is the first one we're looking at...but perhaps one of the answers to this is maybe everybody out there shouldn't rely so heavily on that. The problem is there's not anything else they can do as a substitute."

After recently coming under fire for a revision made in a weekly gas storage report, EIA published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting public comment on its storage data revision policy (see NGI, Jan. 10).

EIA has offered two alternatives to current practice: (1) setting an alternate time for announcing revisions on Mondays, or (2) announcing revisions at any time after first sending out two-hour advance warnings. Both of these would apply only for large revisions -- 15 Bcf or more.

EIA has asked for comments on the two alternatives and on specific features of each. The first alternative would have EIA announcing any revision of 15 Bcf or more at 10:30 a.m. EST on the first federal government workday of the week, which normally would be Mondays, or Tuesday if Monday is a holiday.

In the second alternative EIA could post a warning and send out e-mails to its notification list two hours before announcing a major revision. This would occur "irrespective of whether any specific markets are in operation at the time of the revision release."

In both cases any revisions between 7-14 Bcf, or revisions greater than 7 Bcf resulting from a new estimation methodology or sample used in the estimation process, would be announced at the regular time for storage and revision announcements on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. EST.

"I'll just say publicly, I think what they put out and proposed is very common sense and I think makes good policy," Wood said in commenting on the EIA review and proposals. "There's some aspects to it, some nuances, that they've asked for advice on and our team's looking at that."

Meanwhile, Wood said that increased access to natural gas is one of three top items on FERC's agenda heading into the first quarter of 2005.

One aspect of natural gas access touched upon by Wood "is getting gas from the North. By the North, I mean both Alaska and the northern regions of Canada...the Mackenzie Delta. Those two regions together have about 40 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves of natural gas," he noted. "I think the estimates as to what is pretty likely, but not yet actually in hand, is probably another 100 Tcf in Alaska alone."

FERC in November issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR) in which it seeks public comment on standards for creating an open-season process that provides access to capacity on a proposed natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope (see NGI, Nov. 22, 2004).

The NOPR responds to a congressional mandate that directed FERC to issue rules within 120 days of Oct. 13, 2004, when President Bush signed into law the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Act that advocates the construction of the long-line gas system and offers an $18 billion federal loan guarantee for the project.

FERC previously said it plans to implement a final rule by Feb. 10, 2005. The Alaska pipeline act also requires the Commission to act on any Alaska gas transportation proposal within 20 months after the agency determines that an application is complete.

"I think that's a very positive step," Wood said of the action taken by Congress. "There were some legal and financial certainties that were needed by any developer of a pipeline in Alaska that they needed to have to clarify what had happened in the 30 years since the law was written the first time when a pipeline certificate was awarded that many years ago in President Carter's era."

Look for Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski to play a key role in developments related to the pipeline over the next couple of months, Wood told reporters after the briefing.

"I think the governor of Alaska is really in the driver's seat here and I think watching him over the next...50 days is going to be a pretty big, darn deal for that pipeline and old Frank Murkowski -- I wouldn't ever bet against him," Wood said.

In light of the flood of LNG project applications the Commission has received, Wood was asked whether he thought FERC at some point would have to become pickier in terms of which projects get a green light from the federal agency.

"I think what happened [in the] Bahamas is probably pretty indicative," Wood said. FPL Group Resources, Tractebel North America and El Paso Corp. last month said they planned to combine their competing Bahamas pipeline and LNG projects, which would provide substantial imported natural gas to the South Florida market later this decade

"Pipeline developers come together and realize that there's room for one and they've got to work it out, so they all take equity shares in the ultimate project," he said.

"This is probably going to be a big surge right now -- this year and next -- and then probably ease back," Wood said in reference to the number of LNG project proposals.

"I don't know in the future if there's ever going to be a time when we'll have quite the surge of LNG development because it's basically gone from zero to 60 in about a three-year period. It will take a few more years to get them built, but I think after that, you might have incremental ones or twos added over the time of permits being sought at FERC, but I really think this time is kind of unique."

Overall, Wood said that ensuring the reliability and security of the electrical grid, overseeing the smooth transition of the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) this spring to new energy markets and increased access to natural gas are the Commission's top three priorities in the first quarter of this year.

Commenting on the proposed merger of Exelon Corp. and Public Service Enterprise Group Inc. (PSEG), Wood said that the Commission's focus in evaluating this transaction and other mergers will be on their "impact on the competitiveness of the generation marketplace." When pressed on whether he thinks there will be divestitures flowing from the PSEG-Exelon deal, Wood said, "I do."

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