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Gas.com Inc? A Smokestack Industry Faces the E-Future

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 2000

and the price of gas immediately settles to market value without any influence of the inefficiencies of the traditional networks on which the price currently rides.

As is also typical with such an Internet influence, the middlemen's existence is immediately banished. This means all the marketers could go away, since they no longer have a function in a perfectly efficient Internet-based market. However, they are not going to go away without a serious fight! This is the most powerful segment in the industry.

[Moreover], the Gas Industry Standards Board's first goal was to head [toward an hourly market], to make the nominations and scheduling of transactions seamless to the point of enabling such a quick market. GISB's goal amounted to trying to streamline a vast enterprise supply chain. However, what GISB experienced is that the suppliers view each other as fierce competitors and were unable to work cooperatively. It is doubtful that any meaningful streamlining of the grid will take place until or unless the customer segment of the industry makes roaring sounds like what we've seen in other markets.

What would happen to pipeline transportation capacity if gas is further commoditized on the Internet?

If transportation capacity is further commoditized [from] its current state and across the whole pipeline grid, then the pipelines lose their monopoly status, and the price of their capacity is settled in the market by buyers and sellers only, eliminating pipelines as middlemen (along with their fees based on market inefficiencies).

They get relegated to bit players in the schema, only useful for physically moving gas. (However, the transportation of gas and transportation capacity are limited more by their physical connection to the pipe in the ground, which sours some of the commoditization efficiencies).

Nonetheless, this threatens a cherished role of the second-most powerful segment in the industry - that of the capacity market on the pipelines. They would fiercely resist a market scenario that relegated a return to a utility status, with no real need for contact with customers. This lack of contact with their customers would come about because the auction sites that conducted the gas trades would become the only interaction their former customers would need. This single site would then provide the necessary nomination information to all pipelines.

This is a fundamental part of the puzzle, since the pipeline differentiation we see today is mutually exclusive of a commoditized gas market (and, to a lesser extent, the capacity auction market). With pipeline differentiation no longer included in the gas "product" like it is today, the need for a customer to interact with the different pipelines vanishes, perhaps resulting in happy customers, but unhappy pipelines.

How do natural gas industry initiatives relate to other industries?

The Internet can easily enable exchanges on each pipeline so buyers and sellers of gas and capacity can trade and compete in a definable market space. However, this is short of the full empowerment other markets in other industries have achieved.

In other industries, the power of the consumer has been so vast (due to vast numbers) that the