Senate probe over possible collusion between oil and gas majors, OPEC an “election year” stunt

(Bloomberg) – A U.S. Senate committee is investigating whether oil producers are illegally coordinating with OPEC to raise prices, following allegations that the former head of Pioneer Natural Resources Co. colluded with the group.

The probe is being led by Budget Committee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, an industry foe. He has requested documents from 18 oil companies — including Exxon Mobil Corp., BP PLC, and Chevron Corp. — on grounds that evidence suggests the oil and gas industry may be trying to depress production.

“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,” Whitehouse wrote in letters to the companies, made public Thursday.

The documents sought by Whitehouse include communications among company officials and members of the OPEC related to oil production and prices, from January 2020 to the present. Representatives of BP, Chevron and Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The probe comes after the Federal Trade Commission, as part of its review of Exxon’s $60 billion takeover of Pioneer, claimed it “found evidence” Pioneer’s former head, Scott Sheffield, sought to communicate with OPEC and U.S. peers about oil pricing and production. The FTC referred the matter for a potential criminal investigation. Sheffield denies the allegations.

Pioneer and Sheffield have vehemently denied these accusations, saying “they are based on a false narrative, mischaracterization of the facts and evidence, and a baseless interpretation of the applicable law.”

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A spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute dismissed the new probe as “yet another election-year stunt.”

“The reality is that U.S. producers have increased production to record levels despite a growing list of inflationary policies that hurt consumers and threaten to cede our energy advantage to nations hostile to US interests,” Bethany Williams, a spokeswoman for the trade group, said in an email.  

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