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AGA decision to shut in storage survey rattles energy markets.
The race is on to fill the data void created by the American Gas Association's (AGA's) decision to stop gathering and publishing its weekly underground storage information. Aside from the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA), which announced in late October it would enter the weekly gas data business, several private companies are expected to vie to be the first to set up shop as the industry's new major weekly storage data provider.
AGA, the Washington lobbyist for 185 natural gas utilities across the nation, surprised many in the energy industry in October when it announced that it was exiting the weekly storage data business. In the discontinuance notice, AGA said it would issue its final working gas-in-storage report on Jan. 2, 2002, covering storage activity for the week ending Dec. 28.
Since the announcement, some industry officials have expressed a desire for AGA to continue issuing the storage inventory report through the end of this coming winter. Gauging gas inventories is most crucial in the January to March timeframe, when gas usage hits its traditional peak, and the market must decide whether to meet demand by pulling gas from storage or taking it straight from the wellhead.
But AGA says it will stick to its original plan and close up its storage data collection operations at the end of the year. The association says it has approached EIA about providing storage estimates on a weekly basis instead of the agency's current monthly schedule.
"AGA's weekly storage estimates have closely tracked EIA's numbers over the past seven years," said Roger Cooper, AGA executive vice president of policy and planning, in an Oct. 12 letter announcing its decision. "AGA estimates are currently issued three working days after the weekly reporting period ends, while EIA storage data is often published a month or more after the end of the reporting period."
Pat Wood, the new FERC chairman, said EIA was the logical group to take over the weekly storage survey duties. Based on his discussions with EIA, though, Wood believes it would take the statistical arm of the U.S. Energy Department a couple of years to get a weekly storage survey up and running. "EIA is not capable of doing that until 2004," Wood said following FERC's Oct. 24 public meeting.
In announcing on Oct. 30 that EIA would conduct a weekly storage survey, DOE officials said they expect the transfer of storage data duties to be "seamless" and that EIA should be capable of picking up where AGA left off as of Jan. 9, 2002. Cooper said AGA hopes the "EIA survey is simple, efficient and effective-as is ours. We don't want to see any unnecessary burdens placed on reporting companies."
Private Survey to the Rescue?
Despite EIA getting into the game, Wood feels the best option is for a news organization or private company to take over the storage survey efforts. Cooper agrees. In his letter, he suggested the industry turn to "commercial providers that either currently provide these services or