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Nexen's Galaxy III offshore rigs with the newly installed fourth platform in the foreground in the North Sea.

Platts and a couple of agencies like it play a crucial role in determining how prices for oil, gas and other global commodities are set.

That function and how major oil companies make use of it each day are at the heart of a European Commission antitrust probe into pricing of international benchmark Brent crude.

Drawing from a network of correspondents around the world, Platts reports price data and statistics used by producers, refiners, brokerages and governments as reference points for such things as supply deals, corporate transactions and royalty calculations. In the United States, traders disclose transactions, including volumes and prices, to reporting agencies such as Platts, a unit of McGraw Hill Financial Inc., which develops index prices based on that data.

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The agency compiles the Brent index, which brings together a handful of crude streams from the North Sea. Brent futures are traded on the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) in London. By contrast, the North America benchmark West Texas intermediate contract is traded on the CME Group Inc.'s New York Mercantile Exchange.

Platts spokeswoman Kathleen Tanzy would not comment on the investigation beyond offering the company's confirmation that the EC began its probe at its London office on Tuesday in relation to its Brent price assessment process.

"Platts is co-operating fully with the European Commission's review," Ms. Tanzy wrote in an e-mail.

Ohio journalist Warren Platt started the publishing outfit in 1909 as a monthly magazine, and 14 years later began publishing the daily Platt's Oilgram to report price movements. Since the late 1950s, it has ventured into numerous international regions to cover metals, agricultural materials and other commodities.

According to the Platts website, traders, analysts, risk managers, purchasing agents and other professionals at more than 10,000 public and private sector organizations in more than 170 countries use its services.

Its oil price reporting is not widely used in Canadian oil markets, where electronic trading platforms run by such outfits as Net Energy Inc. and Shorcan Energy Brokers, owned by TMX Group Ltd., have come to dominate the landscape.

They contend their system provides a more accurate indication of prices for much-followed crude types such as Western Canada Select heavy blend and light synthetic, derived from the oil sands.

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Their pricing data have become key to understanding how the difference between the value of Canadian, U.S. and international crudes affects corporate bottom lines and the domestic economy.

"As more and more trades go to a screen-based environment, where it's not just brokers typing over to clients on Yahoo Messenger, but actual transactions being completed in an efficient and open marketplace that is transparent and liquid to all the companies, that's a more appropriate index," said an official with Net Energy.

For its part, Platts contends that its information is transparent, and that it has pioneered innovative methods of determining prices. In 2012, it teamed up with the other main reporting agencies, Argus Media and ICIS, to develop a draft price-reporting code of conduct that they said is aimed at ensuring high standards for governance, integrity and transparency.

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