Chief Administrative Law Judge Curtis L. Wagner Jr. Friday suspended FERC enforcement proceedings against Energy Transfer Partners LP (ETP), saying that the two sides are in settlement negotiations to resolve the pending price manipulation charges against the Dallas, TX-based energy company.

“In view of the strong possibility of settlement, and to afford the enforcement litigation staff and ETP time to continue their exploration of the possibility of settlement of this case, the procedural schedule and all hearing-related matters are hereby suspended until Aug. 12. Should a settlement not be reached by that date, a new procedural schedule will be established,” Wagner said [IN06-3]e.

The chief judge’s order places all judicial hearings involving the ETP enforcement case on hold. ETP Friday filed a motion for a “stay of all matters pending before the Commission” in the proceeding, noting that “settlement communications…have advanced significantly.”

In July 2007 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) accused ETP and several affiliates — Energy Transfer Co., ETC Marketing Ltd. and Houston Pipeline Co. — of manipulating physical natural gas prices at the Houston Ship Channel (HSC) and Waha trading hub on various dates from December 2003 through December 2005 (see NGI, July 30, 2007).

ETP faces potential civil penalties totaling $82 million — $79 million for the manipulations at the HSC and $3 million for the manipulations at Waha and Permian trading hubs. FERC also proposed disgorgement of $69.9 million, plus interest, in unjust profits.

In March the Commission approved a joint offer of settlement filed by its enforcement staff and ETP’s Oasis Pipeline and affiliates, which essentially closed the enforcement case against the companies without levying any financial penalties (see NGI, March 2). Oasis and affiliates were accused of discriminating against nonaffiliated shippers in favor of affiliated shippers. FERC initially had proposed $15.5 million in civil penalties for Oasis and affiliates for alleged Natural Gas Policy Act violations of undue discrimination and preference.

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