Cantwell Statement on Alaskan Antitrust Suit Alleging BP and Exxon Conspired “to Withhold Natural Gas from U.S. Markets”

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a member of both the Commerce and Energy Committees, issued the following statement in response to Wall Street Journal reports Tuesday that the Alaska Gasline Port Authority filed an antitrust suit in Fairbanks alleging that "BP PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded oil companies, are conspiring to withhold natural gas from U.S. markets and reinforce their market power over North Slope supplies."

"The Alaska Gasline Port Authority antitrust suit raises real concerns that something is being done by the oil and gas industry to artificially suppress supply and raise the price of fuels," said Cantwell, chair of Energy Independence 2020. "The Senate is currently debating giving these same oil companies unfettered access to additional oil fields in Alaska – oil fields located in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Holding up critical funding for our troops to give Christmas bonuses that oil companies accused of manipulating prices to hurt Americans at the gas pump is ludicrous."

"For months I have been demanding a formal investigation into price gouging. The fact that we are considering a giveaway on the floor of the Senate to these same oil companies accused of making America’s energy price situation worse is obscene. The Alaska suit makes it clearer than ever that these company executives must come before Congress to explain their pricing practices."

Nationwide, household heating costs have risen 26 percent over last year. Households heating primarily with natural gas will likely spend $281 more for fuel this winter, 38 percent more than last year. Energy prices are out of control and far too many Americans can’t afford to heat their homes in the face of rising winter heating costs.

At a joint hearing of the Senate Commerce and Energy Committees in November, executives from major oil companies spoke to Congress about nationwide concerns of gas price gouging. Before that hearing, Cantwell led a group of Democratic senators in requesting that oil company executives testify under oath when they appeared before the Committees. That request was denied.

Soon after the hearing, The Washington Post published an article which cast doubt on the truthfulness of their testimony, specifically on the companies’ participation in Vice President Dick Cheney’s 2001 Energy Task Force. Cantwell has joined six other senators in asking U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate whether the testimony provided by oil executives at the November 9 hearing violated the Federal "False Statements" statute.

Last month, in a letter to Chairman Ted Stevens of the Commerce Committee and Chairman Pete Domenici of the Energy Committee, Cantwell requested again that oil executives return to Congress and testify under oath about their pricing and exporting practices and the recent run-up in American fuel prices. A number of the oil companies have failed to provide necessary information about their fuel inventories, trading activities and exports, despite the CEOs’ commitments to Cantwell at the November joint hearing.

Cantwell has also introduced legislation to put in place federal anti-gas price gouging protections and guard against future profiteering and market manipulation. Cantwell’s legislation came up for a vote on November 17, but needing a supermajority of 60 senators to pass, failed on a close 57 to 42 vote.