NPR logo Gas Company's Business Disclaimer Might Inspire Existential Dread*


Gas Company's Business Disclaimer Might Inspire Existential Dread*

You know it in your heart. You might not keep your New Year's resolutions. Your good intentions might fall on hard times. The plot might twist. You have no crystal ball.

Emily Dickinson noted it — the inscrutability of what's to come.

"The Future—never spoke—
Nor will He—like the Dumb—
Reveal by sign—a syllable
Of His Profound To Come—"

Vladimir Nabokov novelized it, with a narrator declaring tomorrow not just mysterious, but essentially imaginary:

"Perhaps if the future existed, concretely and individually, as something that could be discerned by a better brain, the past would not be so seductive. ... But the future has no such reality (as the pictured past and the perceived present possess); the future is but a figure of speech, a specter of thought."

Southern California Gas Co. has a few words on the subject, too.

As we've reported, SoCalGas owns a natural gas storage well that has been spewing massive quantities of methane into the air near Porter Ranch, Los Angeles. The ongoing disaster has resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people, the declaration of a state of emergency by California's governor and the launch of multiple lawsuits against SoCalGas.

The company is currently working to drill a relief well and stop the leak. As it updates the public about its progress, each press release carries some cautionary text — the business equivalent of noting that the future is a figure of speech.

We should note that it is standard practice for a company to add a disclaimer to its press releases. There's nothing unusual about noting that "forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance," or naming specific risk factors that might change a company's plans.

But to our eyes, SoCalGas' disclaimer is striking in its length (one press release featured 465 words on the situation, 90 words on the company and 618 words of disclaimer).

And in its attempt to encompass every possible eventuality, the disclaimer verges on the philosophical.

Look for yourself:

This press release contains statements that are not historical fact and constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements can be identified by words like "believes," "expects," "anticipates," "plans," "estimates," "projects," "forecasts," "contemplates," "intends," "depends," "should," "could," "would," "will," "confident," "may," "potential," "possible," "proposed," "target," "pursue," "goals," "outlook," "maintain" or similar expressions, or discussions of guidance, strategies, plans, goals, opportunities, projections, initiatives, objectives or intentions. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of performance. They involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions. Future results may differ materially from those expressed in the forward-looking statements. Forward-looking statements are necessarily based upon various assumptions involving judgments with respect to the future and other risks, including, among others: local, regional, national and international economic, competitive, political, legislative and regulatory conditions and developments; actions and the timing of actions, including issuances of permits to construct and licenses for operation, by the California Public Utilities Commission, California State Legislature, U.S. Department of Energy, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, California Energy Commission, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Air Resources Board, and other regulatory, governmental and environmental bodies in the United States; the timing and success of business development efforts and construction, maintenance and capital projects, including risks in obtaining, maintaining or extending permits, licenses, certificates and other authorizations on a timely basis and risks in obtaining adequate and competitive financing for such projects; energy markets, including the timing and extent of changes and volatility in commodity prices, and the impact of any protracted reduction in oil and natural gas prices from historical averages; the impact on the value of our natural gas storage assets from low natural gas prices, low volatility of natural gas prices and the inability to procure favorable long-term contracts for natural gas storage services; delays in the timing of costs incurred and the timing of the regulatory agency authorization to recover such costs in rates from customers; deviations from regulatory precedent or practice that result in a reallocation of benefits or burdens among shareholders and ratepayers; capital markets conditions, including the availability of credit and the liquidity of our investments; inflation and interest rates; the availability of electric power and natural gas, and natural gas pipeline and storage capacity, including disruptions caused by failures in the North American transmission grid, pipeline explosions and equipment failures; cybersecurity threats to the energy grid, natural gas storage and pipeline infrastructure, the information and systems used to operate our businesses and the confidentiality of our proprietary information and the personal information of our customers, terrorist attacks that threaten system operations and critical infrastructure, and wars; weather conditions, conservation efforts, natural disasters, catastrophic accidents, and other events that may disrupt our operations, damage our facilities and systems, and subject us to third-party liability for property damage or personal injuries some of which may or may not be covered by insurance; risks that our partners or counterparties will be unable or unwilling to fulfill their contractual commitments;business, regulatory, environmental and legal decisions and requirements; the inability or determination not to enter into long-term supply and sales agreements or long-term firm capacity agreements due to insufficient market interest, unattractive pricing or other factors; the resolution of litigation; and other uncertainties, all of which are difficult to predict and many of which are beyond our control. These risks and uncertainties are further discussed in the reports that the company has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These reports are available through the EDGAR system free-of-charge on the SEC's website, Investors should not rely unduly on any forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date hereof, and the company undertakes no obligation to update or revise these forecasts or projections or other forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

The future never spoke, indeed.

* Or it might not. After all, words like "might" are not guarantees of future performance.