Senate Democrats Probe 18 Producers on Alleged Oil Price-Fixing

Senate Budget Committee chair launches inquiry after FTC probe purported ‘Big Oil’ executive attempted to collude with OPEC to manipulate petroleum market.

A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) probe into a U.S. oil corporation executive’s alleged attempt to conspire with the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to manipulate global petroleum markets is spurring calls for a broader federal investigation into possible “price-fixing schemes.”

Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on June 27 announced his office has launched an investigation into claims of “collusive, anti-competitive” activities between 18 U.S. oil producers and OPEC to “artificially raise prices on American consumers and increase costs for the federal government.”

Mr. Whitehouse said the inquiry is triggered by revelations surfacing in the FTC’s investigation into former Pioneer Natural Resources Company CEO Scott Sheffield’s purported attempt “to work with OPEC to manipulate global oil and gas production, increase oil and gas prices, and boost his company’s profits” as part of its review of ExxonMobil’s bid to acquire Pioneer, a $64.5 billion deal that would be the largest oil corporation merger in 20 years.

In reviewing the Pioneer-ExxonMobil merger, the FTC on May 2 released a report raising “antitrust concerns” about possible crude oil price-fixing schemes that raised oil and gas costs for consumers by as much as 25 percent.

Mr. Whitehouse said the FTC’s findings suggest Mr. Sheffield and Pioneer were “not the only ones engaging in collusive activities.”

Mr. Sheffield, Pioneer, and ExxonMobil have denied the allegations.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) speaks during a hearing in Washington on June 12, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) speaks during a hearing in Washington on June 12, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

In his announcement Mr. Whitehouse said he has sent letters to the CEOs of APA Corp., BP, Chesapeake Energy, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Continental Resources, Crownquest, Diamondback Energy, Endeavor, EOG Resources, ExxonMobil, Hess, Marathon, Occidental, Ovintiv, Permian Resources, Shell, and SM Energy.

“I am concerned about the possibility that oil and gas companies could be engaging in collusive, anti-competitive activities with OPEC+ that would raise crude oil prices, resulting in higher costs not only for American families, but also for the U.S. government when it acquires crude oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” he wrote in the letters.

Mr. Whitehouse said the FTC is not alone in its “anti-trust concerns” regarding alleged Big Oil price-fixing, citing “recent private class-action lawsuits filed against oil producers operating in the Permian Basin region [that] accuse those producers of illegally working together to depress oil production and price-gouge Americans.”

The FTC’s findings related to Mr. Sheffield’s alleged attempt to collude with OPEC prompted him to “seek to understand whether other oil producers operating in the United States may also have been coordinating with OPEC and OPEC+ representatives concerning oil production output, crude oil prices, and the relationship between the production and pricing of oil products,” Mr. Whitehouse wrote in the letter.

In response to the FTC’s release of evidence concerning Mr. Sheffield’s alleged coordination with OPEC, Mr. Whitehouse on May 30 joined Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and 21 other congressional Democrats in urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) “to use every tool at its disposal to prevent and prosecute collusion and price fixing in the oil industry.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) departs from the Senate Chambers in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on March 14, 2024. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) departs from the Senate Chambers in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on March 14, 2024. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

He said the Senate Budget Committee expects responses from the 18 oil company executives by July 12.

The investigation is one of several into Big Oil either initiated or supported by Mr. Whitehouse. He and Senate Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) launched an investigation into eight oil and gas companies and a major trade association following reports that former President Donald Trump allegedly solicited a quid pro quo from executives, promising to roll back climate regulations in exchange for campaign contributions.

The Senate Budget Committee and Democrats on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee are also engaged in a multi-year probe into oil companies allegedly “making deceptive claims regarding its products, their effects on the climate, and its plans to reduce emissions and combat climate change.”

Mr. Whitehouse and House Oversight ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on May 1 led a May 1 hearing on a joint House Oversight and Senate Budget committee staff report entitled “Denial, Disinformation, and Doublespeak: Big Oil’s Evolving Efforts to Avoid Accountability for Climate Change.”

On May 22, Mr. Whitehouse and Mr. Raskin called on the DOJ to investigate allegations cited in the joint report.

That call has spurred a petition drive sponsored by a range of progressive and environmental groups, such as the Union of Concerned Scientists, urging Attorney General Merrick Garland “to launch an investigation into the fossil fuel industry’s coordinated effort to mislead the public and policymakers, just like it did with ‘Big Tobacco.’”


Leave a Reply