Gas execs trust 30 Tcf market remains in the pipeline.
Mark Hand is senior editor at Public Utilities Fortnightly.
Natural gas industry officials hope they'll be able to look back at 2001 and view the year's series of sideshows as only minor setbacks to their goal of raising the industry's stature and further improving the efficiency of the gas business. Although the industry continues to feel aftershocks from California's electric market restructuring failure and Enron's collapse, many signs point to a relatively painless rebound for a business that has grown increasingly competitive since the mid‑1980s.
Prolonging the Golden of Age of Natural Gas-a phrase used by one gas industry executive to describe the period since the early 1990s-depends on regulators and lawmakers maintaining confidence in the industry's ability to police itself in such areas as production and wholesale trading, where it currently enjoys autonomy. Except for the most reckless members of the industry, the writing on the wall suggests members should lay low until the furor over allegations of market manipulation and price gouging in the energy industry subside.
For many industry officials, what worries them the most is a scenario in which endless investigations into Enron's bankruptcy, combined with fears of future price spikes similar to those of the winter of 2000‑2001, lead to some form of re‑regulation of the wholesale components of the industry.
Robert Best, chairman, president and CEO of Atmos Energy and the executive who can lay claim to coining the term used above to describe the current era, says that in the commodity business, "you're going to have these blips. It's still better to let Economics 101 work-and that is [to] have the commodity deregulated so when you do have a downturn in supply that the infrastructure can respond."