FERC last week played Santa Claus to the natural gas industry bygranting its wish for a second extension of the deadline forcomments on the mega-notice of proposed rulemaking (NOPR)addressing short-term capacity issues and notice of inquiry (NOI)focusing on long-term transportation issues (RM98-10, RM98-12]. Butit did not close the door on those few who might want to filecomments under the current schedule.

The Commission’s action would push back the deadline forindustry comments by three months, moving it from Jan. 22 to April22. However, FERC said it still “would be interested in anycomments that can be filed on a voluntary basis within the currentschedule, addressing the relationship between the short-term issuesin the NOPR and the long-term issues in the NOI.” Commentssubmitted in January would not represent the “last opportunity” forcompanies to provide input on the two initiatives, it assured theindustry. “The Commission merely wishes to be more fully apprisedof the current state of the parties’ ideas.”

It also called on the industry to focus more on issues otherthan the proposed auction for short-term capacity, which is thecenterpiece of the NOPR. The Commission noted issues such asnegotiated terms and conditions and certificate policy havereceived “little attention.” In addition, there has been “littledialogue concerning rate designs for long-term contracts that wouldremove or lessen the current bias toward short-term contracts.”

The extension will give the gas industry more time “to focus onthese important issues and to better formulate comments,” and atthe same time will give Commission staff “the opportunity tocontinue holding conferences and using other means to continue theinteraction with all segments of the industry…”

The extension was sought earlier this month by the four majorgas groups that make up the Natural Gas Council, in conjunctionwith the Process Gas Consumers Group, the American Iron and SteelInstitute, the Georgia Industrial Group and the Edison ElectricInstitute. FERC’s delayed response to their request had caused someanxious moments for the groups. “It’s giving me heartburn,” onesource acknowledged.

Susan Parker

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