More than three weeks after thousands of email communications were surrendered to Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond in a probe of alleged market manipulation in natural gas prices during the 2021 winter storm Uri, little is known about the progress of reviewing them.
“Regarding the subpoenas, I can only say that the documents were received and in the custody of the appropriate individuals,” said Drummond’s Communications Director Phil Bacharach in a recent response to an inquiry by OK Energy Today.
No explanation was given whether the Oklahoma City law firm Foshee & Yaffe was reviewing the email communications subpoenaed of the Corporation Commissioners and the agency staff. The subpoena was issued in early November and had a deadline of late November for a response.
The law firm was hired by Drummond to carry out an investigation into the alleged market manipulation by natural gas suppliers during the storm when prices soared to historic levels. The rise in prices prompted the Oklahoma legislatlure to enact a bond securitization act.
Drummond has never spoken publicly about what prompted him to subpoena the staff and the commissioners in November after he had announced his market manipulation probe last summer. Speculation is that it arose after Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony made public filings in rate cases and alleged there were wrongdoings over the bond securitization cases approved for some utilities. The bonds allowed the utilities to extend rate hikes, in some cases up to 28 years.
The Attorney General’s investigation closely parallels a probe by Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach who already took legal action against Macquarie Energy of Houston, the same firm that supplied utilites in Oklahoma during the February 2021 storm. Kobach sued the company months in advance of Drummond’s announced investigation.
Last week, Kobach refiled the lawsuit after his original suit was dismissed on a legal technicality. Drummond’s office was aware of the latest step by Kobach.
“We are paying attention to the Kansas case and its developments, but our investigation/potential action is wholly independent,” said Bacharach.
Macquarie Energy disputes the market manipulation claims made in the Kansas lawsuit and stated so in May of this year.
The company also faces two other lawsuits in Kansas, filed by individual residents who experienced high natural gas prices during the storm and following months. Five residents who are customers of Kansas Gas Service sued Macquarie Energy and seven other gas firms in September “to recover damages as a reslt of defendants’ unconscionable practices.”
One lawsuit was against Southwest Energy, Macquarie Energy, Energy Transfer, Tenaska, MIECO and Rockpoint Gas Storage as defendants.
A suit by five customers of the Kansas Municipal Gas Agency named BP, Macquarie and Southwest Energy, and CIMA Energy. Both lawsuits made the same claims that, “Defendants seized on Winter Storm Uri to redirect a substantial volume of natural gas that it had agreed to sell at lower prices … and send the same gas to make spot sales to distributors refilling their storage capacities.”
At the time of the filing of the two lawsuits in September, attorney Jay Fowler with the Wichita law firm of Foulston Siefkin, the largest such firm in the state, told the Kansas Reflector, “No one has yet brought a claim to seek reimbursement for the Kansas consumer ratepayers, and we think that claim should be brought because there were some very significant profits made.”