FERC Denies Offshore Pipes' Bid for Privileged Treatment of Data

FERC last week denied a request by major offshore pipelines to bar public disclosure of information that they are required to submit to the Commission under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA).

In April 2000, FERC subjected all offshore natural gas pipelines -- including those that previously weren't covered by its jurisdiction -- to uniform requirements to report information pertaining to their corporate affiliations, customers and conditions of service. Major pipeline companies, such as Duke, Williams and El Paso, asked the Commission to treat the information that they filed as privileged while they challenged the Order 639 decisions in court. But the Producer Coalition, under the Freedom of Information Act, urged FERC to compel disclosure of certain information.

In response, the Commission late Thursday said that "information contained in OCSLA reports will not be protected from public disclosure if such information is necessary to determine whether OCS gas service providers [pipelines] are operating in accord with the OCSLA."

To date, "we find that...OCS service providers requesting privileged treatment have not persuasively demonstrated that the mandates of the OCSLA can be met absent public disclosure of the information required by...the Commission's regulations; consequently, such information will be subject to public disclosure," the order said [RM99-5-003].

"We may be persuaded that an OCSLA report that does not explicitly identify each customer and exhaustively itemize every service condition can nevertheless demonstrate compliance with the OCSLA open and non-discriminatory access standards," it noted. But the offshore pipelines seeking confidential treatment "have not made this case." Rather, they have made "broad requests for confidentiality" based on claims that disclosure of their information would "compromise their competitive standing and result in irreparable economic harm," the order said.

The Natural Gas Act requires gas companies to submit reports to the Commission for public review all the time, FERC pointed out, and "we find no indication that this...has compromised gas companies' ability to function effectively and profitably."

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