FERC to Hear Total NatGas Manipulation Case by Aug. 2022

(Reuters) — A judge at the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will hold a hearing by August 2022 on whether units and traders at French energy company Total, now TotalEnergies SE, should pay $214 million for alleged manipulation of the natural gas market in 2009-2012.

FERC was hoping for an earlier hearing, but the administrative law judge in an order on Tuesday said the "complexity of this matter" requires a longer timetable. The judge expects to make a decision by January 2023.

The case, which has already dragged on for years, is the biggest of FERC's ongoing disputes over alleged power and gas market manipulation, some of which started over a decade ago.

Officials at TotalEnergies were not immediately available for comment.

In 2015, FERC alleged Total made intentionally losing trades - known as "uneconomic" trading - in order to affect index prices in the U.S. Southwest on at least 38 occasions between June 2009 and June 2012. Those losses would be offset by larger gains on other related positions, FERC said.

It was one of a series of so-called "loss leader" or leveraged trading strategies that FERC has pursued over the past decade where traders lose money in one market to benefit larger positions in a benchmark or other financial index.

Other similar cases involved units of JPMorgan Chase & Co., which paid a $285 million fine in 2013, Barclays PLC, which paid a $70 million fine in 2017, and BP PLC, which paid about $24 million this year but was still challenging the fine.

FERC issued a show cause order on April 28, 2016, directing Total Gas & Power North America to explain why it should not pay civil penalties of $213.6 million and disgorge $9.2 million in unjust profits, plus interest, resulting from the alleged manipulation.

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