The European Commission has launched an investigation into allegations that major oil companies, including BP and Shell, have manipulated the oil price and violated European antitrust rules.
On Tuesday, May 14, European Commission officials carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several companies active in the oil and biofuels sectors, including BP, Shell and Statoil.
The Commission has concerns that the companies may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a Price Reporting Agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products.
Oil firm Eni said the European Commission had asked it to provide information, although it was not being probed.
If found guilty, the companies face hefty fines, and will feel “the full force of the law” said the UK’s energy secretary, Edward Davey MP. He also suggested there could be a case for consumers to receive compensation if they have been overcharged for fuel for many years.
“If it turns out that hard-pressed motorists and consumers have been hit in the pocket by the manipulation of markets, the full force of the law should come down on those responsible,” he said.
In a statement, the EC said: “The Commission has concerns that the companies may have colluded in reporting distorted prices to a Price Reporting Agency to manipulate the published prices for a number of oil and biofuel products.
“Furthermore, the Commission has concerns that the companies may have prevented others from participating in the price assessment process, with a view to distorting published prices.
“Any such behaviour, if established, may amount to violations of European antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and abuses of a dominant market position.”
BP and Shell have seen their share prices remain largely unmoved by the allegations.
Seperately the BBC reported yesterday that BP has asked Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene over the escalating costs of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.
The cost to the firm of settling fictitious compensation claims for the disaster could make it a takeover target and threaten its dividend, BP has reportedly warned.
BP put aside $7.8bn (£5.2bn) when it agreed to pay compensation in 2012, but the company now expects the final figure to be much higher.