Slow movement in Oklahoma’s probe of natural gas crisis

 

More than 10 days after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and other state leaders promised to investigate the impact of historic frigid winter weather on Oklahomans’ power bills, it would appear there is little progress publicly known.

At least one State House Committee tasked with exploring ways to help consumers avoid possible catastrophic utility bills has not met.

It is unknown if a Senate Select Committee named by Senate President pro tem Greg Treat has met because the Senator named in charge, Sen. James Leewright has not responded to inquiries by OK Energy Today.

While federal regulators were asked by Minnesota Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith to investigate possible price gouging of natural gas in the Midwest because of the storm, Oklahoma officials have not said much more about it since Gov. Kevin Stitt held a news conference on Feb. 22.

“We are looking into it with other state officials,” was the response this week from a spokesman for Mike Hunter, Attorney General.

“We’re gonna turn over every rock until we find a solution,” vowed Gov. Stitt during the news conference attended by Hunter, Energy Secretary Ken Wagner and others.

The cost of natural gas to Oklahoma utilities during the storm is at the heart of the matter. But the subject of price gouging isn’t as simple as it sounds.

The Governor declared the implementation of the Price Stabilization Act during the week of the storm.

“We’re gonna be looking carefully at the extent to which the Price Stabilization Act’s been violated,” explained Hunter during the news conference. “I will tell folks that the myriad of ways that natural gas can be marketed is something that we’re gonna be working through, but it does present a challenge.”

The Act prohibits the increase of 10% or more once it has been declared by the governor. By the time the governor declared it in effect, natural gas spot prices had soared from around $3 per Mcf to more than $1,000 in some cases.

“There is evidence that there’s been market manipulation that’s gone on and to the extent we discover market manipulation in which entities have taken advantage of the suffering of Oklahomans—we’re gonna held those energies responsible,” promised Hunter.

He explained however that the issue of Interstate Commerce is another matter.

“Interstate commerce—might be difficult to hold them accountable,” said Hunter, noting that the spot price of natural gas shot up before the power crisis hit Oklahoma.

Rep. Gary Mize, Assistant Floor Leader and chair of the House Utilities Committee which was tasked with exploring the issue told OK Energy Today that no hearings have been held to date but future hearings are planned.

“This has been a big issue with many moving parts, however we know that timeliness is important as well. I do believe that efforts are underway to look at price gouging—,” he said in an email response.

The Attorney General’s office has been a part of efforts by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to allow at least Oklahoma Natural Gas the ability to defer the $1.5 billion in gas costs it endured during the week that resulted in rolling blackouts.

The potentially stunning utility bills to be faced by consumers drew the attention of the state leaders when they addressed the February news conference.

“We plan to get to the bottom of this so it never happens again,” professed the Governor.

Energy Secretary Ken Wagner also attempted to allay the fears of consumers.

“The vast majority of Oklahomans will not see a dramatic increase in their energy bills as a result of these rising gas costs,” he stated at the time.

 

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