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Total asks FERC to drop gas market manipulation claims

Total SA and affiliates asked FERC to call off the commission's enforcement staff as they pursue the companies on natural gas market manipulation charges.

In a Jan. 13 motion filed with FERC on Jan. 17, attorneys for the French energy giant, Total Gas & Power North America Inc., Total Gas & Power Ltd., and Total traders Aaron Hall and Therese Tran argued that the commission should reject the findings of its enforcement staff and dismiss claims for 33 out of 38 months during which the companies said the staff failed to describe a scheme of manipulation.

If FERC decides to go forward on the claims for the other five months, the commission should bring the action in federal district court, the attorneys said.

As in past exchanges between Total and FERC enforcement staff in this case, the words were sharp.

"Enforcement staff's September 23, 2016 reply asks the commission to make 'findings' on disputed facts and issues without an evidentiary hearing — not before an Article III judge or even an administrative law judge," the Total attorneys wrote. "And to say that the facts and issues are 'disputed' is an understatement."

The attorneys have maintained that the enforcement staff's case relies on two witnesses who are biased against the Total companies.

"Yet enforcement staff asks this commission to assess fines exceeding $200 million without requiring enforcement staff to prove its case before any tribunal, without allowing respondents to take any discovery, and without subjecting any witness to cross-examination," the attorneys said.

In April 2016, FERC asked the Total companies and employees to prove why they should not be held liable for almost $217 million in civil penalties and forced to disgorge unjust profits of more than $9 million for the alleged manipulation of gas prices. (FERC docket IN12-17)