BP Accused of Crude Oil Price Manipulation

Includes: BP, OIL, USO
by: Bob van der Valk

Nationally the average price for regular unleaded gasoline is $2.658, down about 3 cents per gallon from a week ago. Montana's gasoline prices have leveled off at $2.72 with California staying high at $3.01 per gallon. Hawaii gets the prize for the highest cost for gasoline at $3.09 per gallon in the AAA fuelgauge.report. The gasoline spot market price meanwhile has dropped by 20 cents per gallon in the last two weeks but retail pump prices have not reacted in kind and are not expected to drop much more before the end of next week.

Pump prices have barely budged with the spot market gasoline and diesel prices going down another 2-3 cents per gallon at the end of this week. The August WTI crude oil price decreased $1.07 to just above $69.16 a barrel on Friday

The big petroleum industry news published in the Oklahoma Daily Journal on Friday was that State Attorney General Drew Edmondson had filed a lawsuit against BP/Arco (NYSE:BP). He is accusing them of gaming the price of gasoline and crude oil since 2002. This alleged scheme had previously been brought to the attention of the Federal Trade Commission but Edmondson claims to have found fresh evidence that BP was able to manipulate gas prices by hoarding short-term motor fuel and crude oil supplies.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigated those same allegations in 2006. At that time, BP/Arco was suspected of manipulating the petroleum market by controlling the physical West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil inventory at the Cushing, Oklahoma terminal. They have since divested some of those assets but they are still dominant in trading WTI at the Cushing terminal.

The initial investigation into trading practices between oil companies was called for by Congress in the wake of the huge gasoline and fuel price spikes, which occurred in the aftermath of the Rita and Katrina hurricanes. Those storms ended up hitting refinery complex located on the U.S. Gulf Coast in August and September of 2005. Extensive damage was incurred to those refineries and interrupted the supply of crude oil, finished fuels and lubricating oils to the market.

The oil companies were absolved of any wrong doing by the FTC in the "Investigation of Gasoline Price Manipulation and Post-Katrina Gasoline Price Increases” published in the spring of 2006. That report concluded that normal supply and demand market forces were the reasons for the price variances in the petroleum markets.

AG Drew Edmondson has announced his intentions to be a candidate for Governor in Oklahoma in 2010. That announcement and the filing of the lawsuit against BP/Arco were coincidentally made on June 10, 2009. Any outcome of this lawsuit will definitely also have an effect on the upcoming election in crude oil rich Oklahoma.