FERC has ordered a formal, non-public investigation to be conducted into the “apparent disclosure” to The New York Times of documents that were supposed to be sealed and protected as part of the California regulators’ complaint case against El Paso Natural Gas and affiliates.

At the urging of FERC General Counsel Kevin P. Madden, Chief Administrative Law Judge Curtis L. Wagner Jr. has been directed to carry out the probe and report the results, along with any recommended remedies, back to the Commission within 30 days. Wagner will have the authority to subpoena witnesses.

At issue is a March 26 New York Times article, “Deal for Use of Gas Pipeline Stirs Dispute on Competition,” that made “detailed references” to sealed documents in the complaint that accused El Paso and affiliates of rigging the bid process and manipulating gas prices at the California border. The companies were cleared of the former charges last week, but the latter charge of price manipulation has been set for hearing (see Daily GPI, March 29).

This “[has] raised issues of whether improper disclosure of protected materials or otherwise has occurred,” the FERC order said [IN01-5]. Both Chairman Curt Hebert Jr. and Commissioner Linda Breathitt expressed alarm over the leaking of sealed information during the regular Commission meeting last week.

The investigation is likely to focus on a protective order that FERC granted to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last Sept. 15. The CPUC sought the order so that other parties in the complaint proceeding could gain access to sealed information that was submitted to the CPUC by El Paso’s pipeline and affiliates.

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