According to the Mastio 2007 Natural Gas Transportation Customer Value Study, the most important things to pipeline shippers are reliable firm transportation, respect for contracts and agreements and timely notification of pipeline restrictions.

However, also important to shippers are ease of doing business with pipelines and how easy representatives are to reach and how responsive and friendly they are when they have been contacted, Kevin Huntsman, Mastio director of sales and marketing, told NGI. It's these "soft issues" that can make or break a company's rating. Pipelines dwelling near the top of Mastio's ranking get these things right, consistently, and those at the bottom of the list do the opposite.

"The pipes in the bottom quartile that just can't get away from that, they do poorly in the soft issues," Huntsman said. "It's not as much as an operations-driven issue; it's just that they're not easy to do business with. People like to do business with people that are easy to work with and that they like."

Judging by the results of Mastio's 11th Natural Gas Pipeline Customer Value/Loyalty Benchmarking Study, Williams Gas Pipeline-Northwest is pretty easy to work with and its people are well liked. Williams Gas Pipeline-Northwest took top honors in Mastio's "mega pipeline index" and its "major pipeline index."

Pipelines that exceeded the industry benchmark in the mega index (pipelines with at least 3,500 miles of transportation pipe and annual deliveries of at least 1 Tcf) are Dominion Transmission Inc., Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America, Northern Natural Gas Co., Southern Natural Gas Co., Texas Gas Transmission and Williams Gas Pipeline-Transco.

Pipelines that exceeded the industry benchmark in the major index (pipelines with at least 3,500 miles of transportation pipe serving at least three states) are: Columbia Gulf Transmission Co., Dominion Transmission Inc., Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of America, Southern Natural Gas Co., Southern Star Central, Texas Gas Transmission and Williams Gas Pipeline-Transco.

In the regional pipeline index (pipelines with less than 3,500 miles of transportation pipe and/or serving fewer than three states) the top performer was Vector Pipeline. Pipelines beating the industry benchmark were PG&E's California Gas Transmission, CenterPoint Energy-MRT, Great Lakes Gas Transmission Inc., Iroquois Gas Transmission System, Northern Border Pipeline Co. and Transwestern Pipeline Co.

In the intrastate pipeline category PG&E's California Gas Transmission took top honors again. Mastio did not list any pipelines exceeding the industry benchmark.

And in the major pipeline group index, the top performer was Williams. Companies that exceeded the industry benchmark were Kinder Morgan and MidAmerican Energy.

The study is based on interviews with industrial consumers, local distribution companies, independent power producers and marketers. Each respondent rated pipelines on 24 attributes such as "representatives who listen well," "expertise of personnel," "easy to contact the right person for help," "firm gas transportation is highly reliable," "timely resolution of problems," plus "overall company performance" and "how likely would you be to recommend your pipeline?" The survey also asked several open-ended questions; for instance: "Besides price, what is the most important factor that you use to select one transportation provider over another?" and "What was the biggest disappointment you have experienced with each of your pipelines over the last 12 months?"

"Probably the biggest difference is that there wasn't a lot of difference [from the last survey]," Huntsman said. "We've come into a state where it's pretty consistent. There doesn't seem to be a lot of movement in what's important to the shippers. There's not a lot of chaos as far as who owns what pipe. Obviously there's been a little bit of movement in some ownership of pipes but everything's pretty stable.

"There's stability there in the companies that don't do well and the companies that do do well."

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