Judging from the advertisement that appeared in The Post March 10, Washington Gas Light has pulled off one of the better political coups of the year.
While Washington Gas makes millions by selling its currently unregulated natural gas production at prices far in excess of the prices that gas would bring in a free market, it beseeches the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission not to do anything that could bring those prices down. According to Washington Gas, any such effort by FERC would only make consumer gas prices rise faster.
Rising gas prices are, of course, a serious problem for all gas consumers, especially those on fixed incomes. It does not help, however, to attempt to affix blame on perhaps the only body now capable of alleviating the mess the Natural Gas Policy Act has created.
To be fair, Washington Gas Light is not the only one engaged in the pursuit of a scapegoat. While Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell and Rep. Phil Sharp have introduced a resolution imploring FERC not to speed up the administrative deregulation of natural gas, they have ignored the bipartisan requests of 12 committee members to hold hearings on the NGPA.
It is time natural gas consumers were told the truth.
According to published data, the production subsidiary of Washington Gas Light, Crab Run Gas Company, owns or has interest in 14 deep wells and 11 other wells. Gas produced from deep wells is not regulated under the Natural Gas Policy Act. Consequently, producers, including Washington Gas, have rushed to take advantage of the premium price this gas now commands, as high as $10 per mcf. This compares with an average cost of $1.91 per mcf of all gas purchased in September 1981.
It is true, as Washington Gas Light stated in the advertisement, that exploration has increased. It has increased, however, in the deep gas category, not generally. American Petroleum Institute statistics reveal that, for the period January to September 1981, exploratory gas well drilling was up 28 percent for wells below 15,000 feet and down 12 percent for wells between 10,000-15,000 feet over the same period in 1980. This skewing of production only results in higher total gas costs to consumers. Indeed, the benefits of price- controlled gas go not to consumers but to the deep gas producers. Is it any wonder deep gas producers are against any alteration of the natural gas status quo?
All FERC's current proposals would do is provide a price sufficient to encourage producers to develop gas reserves located between 10,000-15,000 feet onshore and below 300 feet offshore, rather than incur the extra cost to drill below 15,000 feet. Most analysts estimate the impact on consumers' gas bills would be minimal because current production from these areas is not substantial. The impact on Washington Gas Light's gravy train, however, would be substantial.