Energy company pays over $4 million to settle False Claims Act allegations

by Ben Vernia | July 7th, 2012

On July 3, the Department of Justice announced that Louis Dreyfus Energy Services had agreed to pay more than $4 million to settle the government’s claims that the company shortchanged the government for federal natural gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. According to DOJ’s press release:

Louis Dreyfus Energy Services has paid the United States $4,084,000 to settle allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by failing to pay money owed on natural gas acquired from the Department of the Interior, the Justice Department announced today. Louis Dreyfus, which is based in Connecticut, is an energy company that is involved in merchandising, transportation, trading and storage of natural gas.

The settlement agreement resolves contentions by the United States that from December 2004 to March 2008, Louis Dreyfus Energy Services made false claims or misleading statements to the Department of the Interior involving contracts to buy natural gas produced from federal oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Starting in 2004, Louis Dreyfus agreed to pay the Interior Department for natural gas based on a price associated with the delivery of the gas at a fixed point along a natural gas pipeline. After its contracts with the Interior Department were executed, the company requested and received a discount in the price it would pay the Interior Department for the natural gas obtained under the contracts. The United States contends that this price discount applied only when there was a complete or near-complete constraint in the natural gas pipeline such that Louis Dreyfus was unable to transport natural gas along the pipeline. However, the energy services company claimed and obtained the price discounts even on days when it was able to ship natural gas along the pipeline. Thus, the United States contends that Louis Dreyfus was not entitled to the price discounts that it sought and received from the Department of the Interior.

The case was apparently initiated by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General, and not as a qui tam, or whistleblower, lawsuit.

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