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Midwest Gas Price Investigation - Investigation Likely To Continue

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued an interim report to Congress on its investigation into Midwest gas price increases that was cited at the reasons that the FTC launched the investigation. It also provides a status report on the continuing investigation, including progress and a description of the work not yet done. The report details the history of the price spikes of reformulated gasoline (RFG) in the Midwestern part of the country and how these increases caused Commission staff to initiate a preliminary investigation in June and prompted the Commission to begin a formal investigation during the latter part of July.

The report analyzes many conditions reported as potential causes of the gas price spikes - ranging from higher than normal crude oil prices, to the expectation of compliance with EPA Phase II regulations for summer-blend reformulated gasoline in high-ozone urban areas, to the damage to the critically important Explorer pipeline during March. However, the report says that "although it is likely that each of these supply factors contributed to the dramatic recent price spikes in the Midwest, no single factor appears from staff's preliminary investigation to be likely to provide a full explanation, and staff does not yet have sufficient information to assess the impact of these factors in combination."

In accordance with the report, Commission staff is investigating "the possibility of collusion or tacit coordination, conduct that could be illegal under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act." Due to the abundance of potential interwoven causes as well as the monstrous amount of evidential information being collected for the course of the investigation, the report also states that "this investigation is likely to consume, at a minimum, another three or four months."

The report shows that on June 29, Commission staff issued the first round of subpoenas to the nine refiners that currently supply the Midwestern markets and that within the month, staff has accepted and logged approximately 200 boxes of documentation. Around mid August, most documents requested from the first round of subpoenas will be delivered to the Commission offices.
The Commission also issued a second round of subpoenas to other refiners last week, and has issued Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs) to the refiners recently, requesting that the refiners compile data and answers to all of the Commissions written questions. Commission staff issued another set of subpoenas on July 25 to the entities that own or control the gas transportation pipelines serving the Midwest markets of the United States. Documents from that set of subpoenas are expected to begin arriving shortly at Commission offices.

The report further details the Commission's plan to conduct a series of in depth interviews as part of the investigation. Staff has already conducted nearly 15 interviews with market participants, consumers, corporate consumers and many others with knowledge of investigation relevant information, and continues the process of capturing pertinent industry-wide data from the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS). After the documentary evidence has been reviewed and analyzed, staff will take depositions under oath of key participating personnel throughout the gasoline distribution chain in the Midwest United States.

Federal Trade Commission staff will also coordinate all of the investigative efforts with the Attorney General of Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Kentucky, South Dakota, Indiana, Missouri, and West Virginia.

You can find more information on this and other current events topics at http://www.lookster.com

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