Natural gas pipeline associations and electric groups are generally supportive of FERC's proposed rule to allow the sharing of operational information between pipelines and electric transmission operators in the interests of reliable service, but some expressed concerns as to whether there would be adequate safeguards of their private commercial information.

In comments filed Friday, the American Public Gas Association (APGA) said it "believes that the proposed rule...opens the door to the release of commercially sensitive nonpublic information without adequate support for such action and without adequate guidelines for such release."

The notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR), which the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued in mid-July, proposed to remove barriers to the sharing of nonpublic information, not just during emergencies but also for day-to-day operations, planned outages and scheduled maintenance. The NOPR includes a no-conduit provision, which bars recipients of nonpublic information from subsequently disclosing the information to an affiliate or a third party [RM13-17].

Despite the no-conduit provision, APGA said the NOPR's approach to information-sharing among interstate natural gas pipelines and electric transmission operators was "overbroad, subject to potential abuse and unnecessary to ensure reliability."

But the New England Power Generators Association (NEPGA) believes that FERC carries a big stick in the NOPR. "A party that fails to comply with the prohibition on the dissemination of information is subject to FERC enforcement. The Commission has proposed this strict prohibition on information-sharing primarily in consideration of [a] generator's commercial interest in the information that ISO-NE and the pipelines may share.

"What is unclear from the NOPR is how and to what extent a generator may be compensated for the dissemination of information in violation of the NOPR where it causes the generator and/or the wholesale electricity markets harm." NEPGA asked FERC to clarify whether a generator would be entitled to compensation in such a case.

The NEPGA said FERC should require the information-sharing entities to destroy written or recorded information to protect generator commercial interests. This is an "important protection against the potentially harmful effects of the distribution of generator-specific, commercially sensitive information." The group said recipients of confidential information should destroy or return confidential information six months or sooner after they receive it.

Several groups, including the New England Natural Gas Industry (which includes utilities and pipelines), called on FERC to waive the NOPR's no-conduit provision during imminent critical system reliability emergencies to allow unfettered communications between all industry participants in a position to help alleviate the emergency. "All relevant entities in the energy value chain should be participants in discussions...to solve the emergency that threatens reliable electric or natural gas service without rear of reprisal."

The Interstate Natural Gas Association, which represents interstate gas pipelines, also said it supported FERC waiving the no-conduit rule during critical and imminent or ongoing emergency situations in order to ensure reliability. There should be no limit on the sharing of nonpublic, operational information between transmission operators during an emergency, including communications between third parties."

INGAA said it agrees with the NOPR's approach that information-sharing should be voluntary. "Just as transmission operators should have the flexibility to determine what operational information would promote reliable service or operational planning on their systems, the Commission should not mandate the sharing of specific nonpublic, operational information," the pipeline group said.

 Most of the examples in the NOPR of the types of nonpublic, operational information that can be exchanged by pipes and transmission operators focused on near-term issues, such as planned maintenance and known outages, INGAA said. "The examples do not highlight communications related to longer term operational planning, such as possible future changes in operations and/or facilities. Accordingly, further guidance on what nonpublic information transmission operators may share regarding longer term operational planning would be helpful in order to provide transmission operators with the comfort level they need to share such information."