How does the gas industry get to the Internet? Debate. Whilepipelines puzzle over what FERC meant when it prescribed Internetaccess for pipeline transactions, industry players debate where andhow far standardization should go.

FERC’s NOPR said pipelines must provide all electronicinformation and conduct all electronic transactions with customersover the Internet using Internet protocols and procedures by June1, 1999. Last week, several parties weighed in with filings at theFederal Energy Regulatory Commission saying what they thought (i.e.hoped) they heard FERC say in its NOPR.

“Several large marketing and producing customers, with businesson multiple pipelines, advocate the replacement of current EBBs[electronic bulletin boards] with standardized national websitescreens. Conversely, a number of Enron’s more regional customers,with business on few pipelines, argue that EBB standardizationprovides little benefit to them and that Enron should be focused onimproving the flexibility and response time of the current EBB,”Enron said in its filing. To be avoided, Enron said, is anysolution that would force EDI [Electronic Data Interchange]-onlytransactions. “Much as the Enron pipelines might wish for anEDI-only world since we already have EDI in place, this simply isnot a realistic position given the range of our customers’ wantsand needs.” Enron noted even its customers using EDI continue touse the bulletin board for certain functions and said the migrationof current bulletin board functions to the Internet does noteliminate the viability of third party services.

One of those third-party providers, TransCapacity, also filedcomments with the FERC last week. It’s reading of the NOPR saysGISB should do what’s necessary to achieve upload of capacityrelease offers and bids via EDI and standardize the download fileformat for index of customers data. “Others have taken therequirement [to mean] that pipelines provide all electronicinformation and conduct all electronic transactions on the Internetto its most illogical extreme.” which is a requirement for a singlestandardized non-transactional and transactional bulletin boardwith a common look and feel extending down to screen layout andfonts, data forms, file names, and more. “.[I]f and when thismassive undertaking were ever finished, its effect would be only toduplicate what is already available via GISB [Gas IndustryStandards Board] standardized EDI (for transactional data) andpipelines’ HTML based World Wide Web pages (for informationalpostings).”

In the TransCapacity filing, company President Greg Lander saida single nationwide EBB standard whose costs would be rolled intopipeline rates, would put companies like his out of business.”.[I]t is in effect impossible to compete with a ‘free’ service.”His understanding of FERC’s NOPR says “it is not the EBBs, but thefunctions of the EBBs that are being transferred to one Internetprotocol, that protocol being GISB standardized EDI (using HTTPprotocol for the file transfers).”

Koch Gateway voiced a similar argument. “.[I]t is unclear toKoch what the Commission hopes to achieve by proposing to make ‘allelectronic information’ and ‘all electronic transactions’ availableon the Internet. GISB EDI standards provide all shippers with theopportunity to communicate with all TSPs [transportation serviceproviders] using the same methodology – the very goal theCommission is seeking to achieve. EDI, therefore, is the ‘commonlook and feel’ for the natural gas industry,” Koch Gateway said inits comments. Koch said if the FERC is proposing GISB createstandards for transactions on pipeline Web sites, it is creating adual system that it previously opposed in its NOPR. In other words,don’t force the pipes to provide the same transaction capability onWeb sites currently available through EDI.

INGAA asked the FERC for clarification and said it took its NOPRto mean pipelines must provide access to existing bulletin boardsvia the Internet. “The transition to the Internet for pipelinetransactions is a multi-year process that is best accomplishedthrough a phased implementation.” The Interstate Natural GasAssociation of America said EDI is acceptable to larger pipelinecustomers, but other customers want pipes to provide onlinecapabilities. “Customers have already indicated that they expectalternative communication tools for some business functions. Suchtools include flat files and EBBs, some of which are alreadyInternet-accessible through common browser-based front-ends,software that generates form-fill screens or even new mechanismsthat are under development today.”

GISB currently is weighing six models for Internet access. TheGISB group considering the matter is to report to the board ofdirectors by June 1 on what functions should be standardized asbulletin boards migrate to the Internet, said Rae McQuade, GISBexecutive director. “And there may be more than one model of whatfunctions are to be transferred. All functions are to betransferred to the Internet, but it’s what should be standardized.”McQuade said the board will discuss the plan at its June 18meeting, but she would not speculate on when GISB would make itsfiling with the FERC.

©Copyright 1998 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. Thepreceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, inwhole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent ofIntelligence Press,Inc.