AG's office blames Corporation Commission for high gas prices

Saturday, July 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ The attorney general's office says the state Corporation Commission is at least partly to blame for Oklahoma Natural Gas Co.'s high prices last winter.

``I think it's fair to say they share some responsibility for the volatile rates last winter,'' said Cece L. Coleman, the assistant attorney general who signed the office's position statement.

The statement, filed July 13 with the Corporation Commission, says the commission made it more difficult for ONG to buy gas that would allow it to keep prices down.

The statement says that ``placed ONG in a compromising situation and undoubtedly increased the ratepayers' risk of suffering the brunt of volatile natural gas prices last winter.''

The filing is part of an ongoing case before the commission involving ONG's gas-buying practices last winter. The commission is investigating whether ONG acted prudently when it bought the majority of its gas from a unit of its parent company, ONEOK Inc. of Tulsa.

The commission did not respond Friday to the attorney general's filing.

A commission spokesman said the commission's general counsel was out of town and unavailable to comment.

The attorney general's office says the commission did not follow its own rules when it did not process a case affecting ONG's gas-pricing activities within 30 days. The delay affected ONG's ability to buy gas.

The commission was involved in a time-consuming lawsuit filed by Enogex, which sued after losing a bid to provide gas-pipeline services to ONG. Executives for ONG have said that by the time the commission dealt with the suit, prices had soared further and the utility had to scramble just to find enough gas to satisfy consumers.

The attorney general's statement says last winter's high prices were ``a foreseeable result'' of the commission's 1999 deregulation decision. The decision split gas utilities from their storage and pipeline systems.

The filing also reminds the commission that the attorney general's office in 1999 opposed the decision.

Coleman said ONG may bear some responsibility for the high prices last winter. She said she supports the commission's right to force the utility to give refunds to Oklahoma ratepayers if it finds gas wasn't bought prudently.

But she said ``the commission ought to be at least mindful of the role their decision has played. It's not a service to the public to stir up a lot of controversy that may not be entirely the fault of the utility _ that's something the commission need to be cautious about.''

Don Sherry, an ONG spokesman, said consumers weren't hurt by the way the company bought gas last winter. He said ONG customers paid less than other Oklahoma gas utility customers.