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STATE hearing continues into ONG overcharge allegations

Updated:

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahoma Natural Gas Co. provided all the records the state Corporation Commission needs to decide whether the utility was prudent in its purchase of natural gas last winter, the company's vice president testified on Wednesday.

``You're going to find out that there is nothing hidden,'' Bill Eliason said during the final day of a three-day hearing at the state Capitol.

ONG and other subsidiaries of Tulsa-based ONEOK Inc. have refused to turn over records sought by the Corporation Commission's staff. The commission staff has alleged that ONG's actions before and during last winter resulted in its customers paying $72 million in excessive costs for gas.

ONG bought two-thirds of its gas from ONEOK Energy Marketing and Trading under a competitively bid contract that bundled gas and storage together. ONG and OEMT are both owned by ONEOK.

The regulatory agency wants to look at sales records between OEMT and companies other than ONG to compare sales prices and other data.

Eliason said he did not know what the commission could learn from looking at such records.

``The gas was purchased under a competitive bid situation. The price of the gas is market price,'' Eliason said. ``It is very clear that the gas was sold at the market price.''

Don Sherry, manager of corporate communications for ONEOK, said the price spikes that ONG experienced occurred nationwide and were not caused by ONG's policies.

``There is a measure of blame-finding here,'' Sherry said. ``In the wake of very high prices, consumers were understandably very angry. Many consumers don't understand what happened and why and there is always a tendency to place blame.''

The commission planned to take the testimony under advisement and hand down a ruling within two weeks, said commission spokesman Jim Palmer.

Corporation Commission staffers have accused ONG of faulty analysis of the gas supply situation and of not having enough storage to take care of its customers.

Staff members believe that ONG should have not purchased most its gas and storage as a package, but should have bid on the storage alone or with gas transportation.

Commission attorney Miles Halcomb said ONEOK had spelled out in its annual report what the plan was for its marketing and trading division.

Halcomb read: ... ``the company strategy is to concentrate its effort on capitalizing on short-term pricing volatility through marketing, trading and arbitrage opportunities provided by strategic control or ownership of storage, generation and transportation assets.''

Halcomb asked Eliason if he understood why the commission was concerned when ONEOK refused to provide records of unregulated affiliates of ONG.

``It should be of no concern. There is nothing lacking; everything is available for this review to go forward in my opinion,'' Eliason said. ``I'm lost as to how these records would be of any value to this forum here in this review.''

Cece Coleman, head of the public utilities unit of the state Attorney General's Office, said officials are concerned about the allegations made by the commission staff.

``The information is really inconclusive at this point,'' Coleman said.

An administrative law judge found ONEOK in contempt of court for not complying with the commission's request for records about the dispute. A hearing on the issue is set for July 11.

Sherry said ONEOK has not surrendered the records because it believes the commission cannot legally demand them from affiliates, including ONEOK Energy Marketing and Trading, that it does not regulate.
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