Sempra is ordered to turn over trader tapes |

Sempra is ordered to turn over trader tapes

SAN DIEGO (AP) – Sempra Energy and more than a dozen other companies accused of inflating natural gas prices for California consumers must release recordings of traders’ conversations in a $1 billion lawsuit, a judge ruled.

Excerpts from the tapes played in court before Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager were filled with expletives, and featured one trader telling another he had “an insatiable appetite” for swindling California’s markets – though he used a phrase that was far from polite.

The lawsuit is among a handful of outstanding cases alleging wrongdoing by energy companies during California’s 2000-2001 energy crisis. The suit charges that energy traders for Sempra, Duke Energy Corp., EnCana Corp. and Reliant Energy Inc. engaged in fraud against California consumers.

Doug Kline, a spokesman for Sempra, which owns San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Gas Co., said the company would comply with the judge’s ruling Tuesday.

Duke Energy spokesman Peter Sheffield said that company and others had already offered to provide certain recordings.

Transcripts of conversations from the tapes have previously been provided to the court by the energy companies.

The 16 public agencies listed as plaintiffs include the city and county of San Diego, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the University of California and California State University systems, Alameda County and Santa Clara County.

Nanci Nishimura, an attorney representing several natural gas users in the suit, said the decision was significant because the tapes provide “a window into understanding what these traders did and it goes to intent and motive in their conduct.”

They include examples of traders who agreed to what are known as “wash” trades, in which both parties buy the same amount of gas from each other in order to report inflated trading prices to an industry publication that helps set market prices for natural gas.

The case, still in the initial stages, is related to a class-action antitrust lawsuit that Sempra settled earlier this year. In that suit, Sempra was accused of conspiring with Houston-based El Paso Corp. to restrict natural gas supplies during the energy crisis to inflate prices.

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