U.S. FERC to hear Total alleged $214 million natgas manipulation case

FILE PHOTO: A warning sign for a natural gas pipeline is seen in front of natural gas flares at an oil pump site outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/

(Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said Thursday it established a hearing to determine whether units and traders at French energy company Total, now called TotalEnergies SE, manipulated the natural gas market in 2009-2012.

The case, which has dragged on for years, is the biggest of FERC’s ongoing disputes over alleged power and gas market manipulation, some of which started over a decade ago.

Specifically, the Commission said it voted to establish a hearing before a FERC administrative law judge to determine whether the TotalEnergies units and a couple of the company’s gas traders violated the Natural Gas Act and the Anti-Manipulation Rule.

Officials at TotalEnergies were not immediately available for comment.

FERC issued a show cause order on April 28, 2016, directing TotalEnergies’ Total Gas & Power North America and traders Aaron Hall and Therese Tran to explain why FERC should not find that they manipulated the price of gas at four locations in the U.S. Southwest between June 2009 and June 2012.

The show cause order also directed Total Gas & Power North America to explain why it should not pay civil penalties of $213.6 million and disgorge $9.2 million in unjust profits, plus interest, resulting from the alleged market manipulation.

The show cause order directed Hall to explain why he should not pay civil penalties of $1 million, and Tran to explain why she should not pay civil penalties of $2 million.

FERC said a prehearing conference is to convene within 45 days of Thursday’s order.

Reporting by Scott DiSavino; Editing by Steve Orlofsky