El Paso Merchant Ordered to Relinquish Protected Data

FERC last week ordered El Paso Merchant Energy and El Paso Merchant Energy-Gas L.P. to stop stonewalling and turn over protected materials to parties involved in a complaint case that alleges the affiliates received preferential treatment when they acquired 1.2 Bcf/d of California-bound firm capacity on El Paso Natural Gas.

The Commission did not rule on the merits of the complaint that was brought by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last year, but the decision clears the way for intervenors to receive sensitive documents that are critical to the resolution of the case. The CPUC and others have asked FERC to rule quickly on the complaint, claiming that the $38 million contract is largely to blame for the steep rise in natural gas prices in California.

Specifically, the Commission last week denied the El Paso Merchant affiliates' request for rehearing of a June 2000 order that granted the CPUC the right to make certain discovery requests of El Paso pipeline and its affiliates, and rejected rehearing of a September protective order. The latter directed the El Paso Merchant affiliates to make available to all intervening parties, who agreed to the terms of the protective order, all of the materials that were being submitted to the CPUC and FERC in the case.

So far, the El Paso Merchant affiliates have refused to release the information to these parties, claiming that the materials being filed with the CPUC and FERC are for "Government Eyes Only." It also argued that the protective order offered inadequate protection of its commercially sensitive information.

The Commission disagreed. "All of the information that El Paso Merchant seeks to shield...relates directly to the issues," the order said [RP00-241]. Also, FERC finds that the protective order provides "sufficient protection for El Paso Merchant's commercially sensitive documents."

Filed last April, the CPUC's complaint seeks to abrogate the capacity contract arrangement between El Paso and the El Paso Merchant affiliates. The agency alleges the affiliates were given "preferential treatment" by El Paso during the open season for the capacity.

Susan Parker

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