A U.S. Senator is urging Washington's competition commission to investigate what he suggests is evidence that Canadian oil sands producers colluded with TransCanada Corp. to manipulate prices in Midwestern petroleum markets.
Senator Ron Wyden cited evidence given before Canada's National Energy Board some time ago that TransCanada and the oil companies saw the proposed Keystone XL pipeline as a way to end the glut of Canadian crude in the Midwest by diverting supplies to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission released Wednesday, the Oregon Democrat said TransCanada and a seven-company shippers' group may have violated U.S. anti-trust laws. Among the companies named were Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., ConocoPhillips Co., and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
"It has been brought to my attention that documents and testimony indicate that at least seven Canadian oil shippers have agreed to incur increased near-term shipping costs on the new pipeline in order to impact market supply in the existing markets so as to drive up the overall price of their product for U.S. refiners," Mr. Wyden wrote.
The Federal Trade Commission will consider the request for an investigation and determine whether one is warranted, spokesman Mitch Katz said.
Mr. Wyden referred to testimony from a TransCanada consultant, Tom Wise, at an NEB hearing several years ago in which he said oil companies were being told to expect lower per-barrel profits on the XL pipeline, but that they could increase their returns in the Midwest and Ontario because the lower volume of crude going into those markets would increase prices.
Mr. Wise had suggested the oversupply of crude in the Midwest had resulted in a significant discount being paid to Canadian producers, and the XL pipeline could eliminate that discount and increase revenue by as much as $4-billion a year.
A spokeswoman for the NEB said Wednesday that its hearings routinely consider possible impacts on prices in various markets when weighing new projects.
Keystone XL opponents have previously seized on Mr. Wise's NEB testimony to suggest that American consumers would be hurt by the project. The U.S. State Department is currently considering TransCanada's application for a construction permit for the XL pipeline, a process that sparked a high-profile, "dirty oil" campaign by groups opposed to greater oil sands production.
A TransCanada spokesman said Wednesday that the Keystone XL project would not affect oil prices in the United States, which are set in international markets, but would result in increased exports into the country.
"This is an issue that we've been dealing with for months. Groups are claiming this project is going to have an impact on crude oil prices, and this is not the case," said TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha. "In no way will this project increase prices on gasoline or the price per barrel."