|Commitments and Contingencies Disclosure [Text Block]
5. Commitments and Contingencies
Regulatory and Rate Matters and Related Litigation
Central recovers the natural gas it uses for fuel on its operating system and gas losses it incurs on its system in-kind from its customers via a fuel reimbursement charge placed on the volumes of gas transported through the system. The reimbursement charge is established through an annual fuel tracker filed with the FERC.
General Rate Issues
On April 30, 2008, Central filed a general rate case under FERC Docket No. RP08-350 which became effective November 1, 2008, subject to the condition that Central refund to customers any amounts it collects in excess of the rates ultimately allowed. This general rate proceeding increased Centrals transportation, storage and related rates, and also provided for various changes to a number of the terms and conditions of customer services which are provided for in Centrals tariff. The case was settled and became final in 2009. Under the terms of the settlement, Central is required to file a rate case to be effective no later than December 1, 2013.
Environmental and Safety Matters
Central has identified polychlorinated biphenyl contamination in air compressor systems, soils and related properties at certain compressor station sites and has been involved in negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or the EPA, and state agencies to develop screening, sampling and cleanup programs. In addition, negotiations with certain environmental agencies concerning investigative and remedial actions relative to potential mercury contamination at certain natural gas metering sites have commenced. Central had accrued an undiscounted liability of approximately $1.8 million at June 30, 2011 and $2.0 million at December 31, 2010 representing the current estimate of future environmental cleanup costs, most of which is expected to be incurred over the next three years.
Central is subject to federal, state and local statutes, rules and regulations relating to environmental protection, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. These laws and regulations can result in capital, operating and other costs. These laws and regulations generally subject Central to inspections and require it to obtain and comply with a wide variety of environmental licenses, permits and other approvals. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has promulgated regulations addressing emissions from equipment present at typical natural gas compressor stations. These regulations include NESHAPs for reciprocating internal combustion engines, stationary turbines, and glycol dehydration equipment in addition to regulations that address regional transport of ozone. On August 20, 2010, the EPA promulgated new emission standards that apply to certain of Centrals existing reciprocating engines. These new standards, with an initial compliance date of October 19, 2013, require the installation of emission control devices on some of Centrals existing units. Based on an analysis of these regulations, management does not expect there to be a material impact to Centrals existing operations. On September 22, 2009, the EPA promulgated a mandatory greenhouse gas reporting rule that imposes requirements for some of Centrals existing operations; however, management does not expect these requirements to have a material impact on Centrals existing operations during 2011. There are also other various proposed rules and potential federal legislation related to greenhouse gas emissions that could impact Centrals existing operations when promulgated. Central continues to monitor the progress of these proposed rules and will determine any impact once the regulations have been promulgated.
All of Centrals facilities are located in areas currently designated as being in attainment of all National Ambient Air Quality Standards, or NAAQS. However, on January 6, 2010, the EPA proposed more stringent NAAQS for ozone. Certain of our facilities are located in areas that may not be in attainment with the revised ozone NAAQS. Management does not expect that these revisions to the ozone NAAQS will have a material impact on Centrals existing operations. The final standards were originally scheduled for promulgation by August 31, 2010; however, the EPA has not currently issued the new standards. The proposal included a range of values for the possible ozone standards; therefore, the final standards and any related impacts to Centrals existing operations are not quantifiable at this time.
Central considers environmental assessment, remediation costs and costs associated with compliance with environmental standards to be recoverable through rates, as they are prudent costs incurred in the ordinary course of business. The actual costs incurred will depend on the actual amount and extent of contamination discovered, the final cleanup standards mandated by the EPA or other governmental authorities, and other factors.
United States ex rel, Grynberg v. Williams Natural Gas Company, et al., MDL Docket No. 1293 (99 MD 1614), Civil Action No. 97 D 1478, (District of Colorado), or Grynberg Litigation
In 1998, Jack Grynberg, an individual, sued Central and approximately 300 other energy companies, purportedly on behalf of the federal government, or qui tam. Invoking the False Claims Act, Grynberg alleged that the defendants had mismeasured the volume and wrongfully analyzed the heating content of natural gas, causing underpayments of royalties to the United States. The relief sought was an unspecified amount of royalties allegedly not paid to the federal government, treble damages, or civil penalty, attorney fees and costs. The Department of Justice declined to intervene in Grynbergs qui tam cases, which were consolidated for pretrial purposes before a single judge in the United States District Court, or Trial Court, for the District of Wyoming. Initial discovery was limited to public disclosure/original source jurisdictional issues. On June 4, 2004, motions, with supporting briefs, were filed by the Joint Defendants requesting the Trial Court to dismiss Grynbergs claims based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Those motions were fully briefed and oral arguments occurred on March 17 and 18, 2005. On May 13, 2005, the Special Master appointed to adjudicate procedural issues and help manage the consolidated litigation for the Trial Court Judge, issued his Report and Recommendations addressing which Grynberg claims against which defendants should be dismissed. Central was one of the defendants as to which the Special Master recommended that Grynberg's claims be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. Both Grynberg and a number of the defendants filed objections to the Special Masters report. On October 20, 2006, the Trial Court Judge entered his Order on Report and Recommendations of Special Master dismissing Grynberg's claims against Central and substantially all of the other defendants. Grynbergs counsel filed notices of appeal with the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, or Appellate Court, where his appeals were docketed as In re Natural Gas Royalties Qui Tam Litigation, Case No. 06-8099. Oral argument occurred on September 25, 2008. On March 17, 2009, the Appellate Court affirmed the Trial Courts dismissal of Grynbergs complaints on jurisdictional grounds related to the original source defense asserted by Central. On March 20, 2009, Grynberg filed a motion for an extension of time to file a petition for rehearing of the Appellate Courts decision. The Court granted Grynbergs motion and he subsequently filed his petition for rehearing on April 14, 2009. On May 4, 2009, the Appellate Court denied Grynbergs petition for rehearing. On August 4, 2009, Grynberg filed a petition (Number 09-170) for certiorari review with the United States Supreme Court. On October 5, 2009, the Supreme Court denied Grynbergs petition. On July 27, 2011, the Trial Court entered three orders disposing of the defendants motions for attorney fees and cost which were the subject of a hearing held on April 24, 2007. The Trial Court Judge awarded attorney fees and costs to the defendants and directed Grynberg to pay a portion of the Special Masters fees into the Trial Courts registry. It is unknown at this time whether the parties, through counsel, will be able to agree upon the specific amounts to be paid by Grynberg, or whether further post-judgment proceedings before the Trial Court and/or the Appellate Court may be necessary.
Will Price, et al. v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., et al., Case No. 99 C 30, District Court, Stevens County, Kansas, or Price Litigation I
In this putative class action filed May 28, 1999, the named plaintiffs, or Plaintiffs, have sued over 50 defendants, including Central. Asserting theories of civil conspiracy, aiding and abetting, accounting and unjust enrichment, their Fourth Amended Class Action Petition alleges that the defendants have under measured the volume of, and therefore have underpaid for, the natural gas they have obtained from or measured for Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs seek unspecified actual damages, attorney fees, pre- and post-judgment interest, and reserved the right to plead for punitive damages. On August 22, 2003, an answer to that pleading was filed on behalf of Central. Despite a denial by the Court on April 10, 2003 of their original motion for class certification, the Plaintiffs continued to seek the certification of a class. The Plaintiffs motion seeking class certification for a second time was fully briefed and the Court heard oral argument on the motion on April 1, 2005. On September 18, 2009, the Court denied the Plaintiffs most recent motion for class certification. The Plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider that ruling on October 2, 2009. The defendants, including Central, filed a response in opposition to the Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration on January 18, 2010. The Plaintiffs filed a reply, and oral argument, which was presented before a different judge, was heard on February 10, 2010. By order dated March 31, 2010, the Court denied the Plaintiffs October 2, 2009 motion to reconsider the earlier denial of class certification. The Plaintiffs did not file for interlocutory review of the March 31, 2010 order; however, it is unknown at this time whether the Plaintiffs intend to proceed with the merits of their claims, absent class certification or plan to move to dismiss the lawsuit.
Will Price, et al. v. El Paso Natural Gas Co., et al., Case No. 03 C 23, District Court, Stevens County, Kansas, or Price Litigation II
In this putative class action filed May 12, 2003, the named Plaintiffs from Case No. 99 C 30 (discussed above) have sued the same defendants, including Central. Asserting substantially identical legal and/or equitable theories, as in Price Litigation I, this petition alleges that the defendants have under measured the British thermal units, or Btu, content of, and therefore have underpaid for, the natural gas they have obtained from or measured for Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs seek unspecified actual damages, attorney fees, pre- and post-judgment interest, and reserved the right to plead for punitive damages. On November 10, 2003, an answer to that pleading was filed on behalf of Central. The Plaintiffs motion seeking class certification, along with Plaintiffs second class certification motion in Price Litigation I, was fully briefed and the Court heard oral argument on this motion on April 1, 2005. On September 18, 2009, the Court denied the Plaintiffs motion for class certification. The Plaintiffs filed a motion to reconsider that ruling on October 2, 2009. The defendants, including Central, filed a response in opposition to the Plaintiffs motion for reconsideration on January 18, 2010. The Plaintiffs filed a reply, and oral argument, which was presented before a different judge, was heard on February 10, 2010. By order dated March 31, 2010, the Court denied the Plaintiffs October 2, 2009 motion to reconsider the earlier denial of class certification. The Plaintiffs did not file for interlocutory review of the March 31, 2010 order; however, it is unknown at this time whether the Plaintiffs intend to proceed with the merits of their claims, absent class certification or plan to move to dismiss the lawsuit.
Summary of Commitments and Contingencies
In connection with the purchase of Central by Southern Star from The Williams Companies, Inc., or Williams, in 2002, a Litigation Cooperation Agreement was executed pursuant to which Williams agreed to cooperate in and assist with the defense of Central with respect to the Grynberg Litigation and the Price Litigation. Pursuant to that agreement, Williams agreed to provide information and data to Central, make witnesses available as necessary, assist Central in becoming a party to certain Joint Defense Agreements, and to cooperate in general with Central in the preparation of its defense.
The Company is subject to claims and legal actions in the normal course of business in addition to those disclosed above. While no assurances can be given, management believes, based on advice of counsel and after consideration of amounts accrued, insurance coverage, potential recovery from customers and other indemnification arrangements, that the ultimate resolution of these matters will not have a material adverse effect upon the Companys future financial position, results of operations, or cash flows. Costs incurred to date of defending pending cases have not been material.