A PYMNTS Company

Antitrust Scrutiny Heating Up in Oil and Gas Industries

 |  January 3, 2022

By: Thomas Dillickrath, John Carroll & Katie Daw (Sheppard Mullin)

President Biden recently wrote a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan urging the Commission to immediately investigate potential anticompetitive behavior in the oil and gas sector. The President noted that gas prices have been rising, while the costs faced by oil and gas companies themselves have decreased. Concerned that the two largest oil and gas companies in the country are set to double their net income over 2019 while the gap between the price of unfinished gasoline and the price at the pump is increasing, he called on the FTC to “bring all of the Commission’s tools to bear if you uncover any wrongdoing.”

Steps Already Taken

The Biden administration has made a previous attempt to direct the FTC’s focus towards the oil and gas industries. At President Biden’s behest, the Director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, wrote to Chair Khan on August 11, citing “divergences between oil prices and the cost of gasoline at the pump” and urging the FTC to investigate. Chair Khan responded with a letter of her own, outlining a three point plan to address the administration’s concerns about the cost of gas. First, the FTC would identify additional legal theories to challenge fuel station mergers that involve dominant players in the market acquiring family-run businesses. Second, the FTC “would tak[e] steps to deter unlawful mergers in the oil and gas industry.” The Chair specifically referred to the imposition of prior approval requirements to deter illegal mergers in sectors including retail gas markets. Third, Chair Khan indicated that she would direct staff to investigate abuses in the franchise market, noting that the sale of gasoline at high prices may benefit chains at the expense of franchisee store operations.

President Biden expressed in his November 17th letter that he appreciated the plans to “strengthen oversight of mergers in the oil and gas sector” but that further inquiry is required…