Ken Schram: Let's put big oil under a microscope

I don't know what will come of it, but I'm happy it's being called for.

Last week, Sen. Maria Cantwell asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the high price of gas here in Washington state.

While the rest of the country was enjoying plummeting prices at the pump, motorists here were digging deeper for every drop - paying about 70 cents a gallon above the national average.

Repairs and maintenance at BP's Cherry Point refinery were cited as one of the main reasons for all the pain at Washington state pumps.

What is gnawing at Sen. Cantwell is the question she wants the FTC to investigate: Did multiple refineries reduce operations to deliberately drive down fuel inventories to their lowest levels since the early 90's?

A report from the McCullough Research Group, an energy consulting firm out of Portland, says gas here should have been dropping if only prices had been following supply costs.

It's popular sport to paint oil companies as being somehow able to manipulate the oil market at will.

But the question of why, when demand for gas is down; when the price of oil is down, why the absence of one refinery could create such economic havoc?

It's a question the FTC will now delve into.

Like I said, I don't know what'll come of that, but it's satisfying to know it's at least being looked into.


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