Lawyers for the Western States Wholesale Natural Gas Antitrust Litigation published a legal notice Monday seeking to swell their plaintiffs' rolls with commercial/industrial customers who bought natural gas during 1999 through 2002 for electric generation or for resale. A proposed $11.3 million settlement is pending with at least six of the defendants, subject to a fairness hearing Sept. 5 before a federal judge in Las Vegas, NV.

Defendants named as part of the settling group are: The Williams Companies; EnCana Corp. and WD Energy Services Inc.; Dynegy and its California independent power plants; Coral Energy; CMS Energy Resources and various affiliates; and Aquila Merchant Services Inc.

The plaintiffs are alleging that the defendants drove up natural gas prices through their use of so-called "wash trades" (the simultaneous purchase and sale of the same amount of gas at the same price) and by reporting false price and volume information to trade publications that compile and publish the data. They are accusing them of having violated both federal and California law.

"Defendants deny these allegations," the published legal notice stated. "Settling defendants are some, but not all, of the defendants involved in the action. The defendants will continue to pursue their claims against the remaining defendants."

In dropping their claims, the settling plaintiffs are getting the settlement payout and the promise of five of the six entities to help the plaintiffs in their action against the rest of the defendants that did not settle.

The major California utilities, along with Las Vegas-based Southwest Gas Corp, municipal utilities, and the federal, state and local governments are excluded from the settlement. A fairness hearing is set for Sept. 5 before Judge Philip M. Pro in a U.S. District Court in Las Vegas to determine if a partial settlement should be granted.

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