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FTC to launch probe into gas prices; Refiners association blasts investigation

The Federal Trade Commission will investigate whether anti-competitive or manipulative practices have been to blame for high gasoline prices, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said Monday.

"The FTC is doing the right thing in opening an investigation into practices that could be responsible for the continued high gas prices that are draining New Yorkers' bank accounts," the New York Democrat said in a statement. "It's high time we get to the bottom of this. If the FTC finds that refiners, oil companies, or anyone else is responsible for price manipulation to pad their own pockets, I expect the appropriate authorities to act swiftly."

Schumer and four other Senate Democrats wrote to the FTC's chairman in May, calling for an investigation.

Schumer has focused on the potential link between oil refiners and high prices. But the FTC said it will look at the practices of not just refiners, but also oil producers, transporters, marketers and traders.

The commission will also investigate whether any of those parties "provided false or misleading information related to the wholesale price of crude oil or petroleum producers to a federal department or agency."

The National Petrochemical & Refiners Association blasted the investigation, saying that refiners are not to blame for high gas prices and that previous probes have come to that conclusion.

"This will happen again, and the only thing that will be accomplished by this new investigation is to waste taxpayer dollars," Charles Drevna, the association's president, said in a statement.

"I look forward to the news conference where the FTC and the elected officials who demanded this investigation will announce that -- like every past investigation -- this new one has found no wrongdoing by America's fuel manufacturers," Drevna said.

It is not certain that the FTC will publicly release its findings. The commission in the past has announced the results of some investigations, especially when law enforcement action or a settlement is involved. But in other cases, the FTC has closed investigations without revealing what it found. The course of action varies.

The average pump price in the Buffalo Niagara region Monday was $3.89 per gallon, down from $4.05 a month ago, according to the AAA of Western and Central New York.

Meanwhile, the price of benchmark crude oil has been dropping in recent weeks. It rose 25 cents Monday and settled at $93.26 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.