Senate Democrats Demand Justice Department Cracks Down on Oil-Price Fixing

By: David Donovan | Published: Jun 03, 2024

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and 22 other Democratic congresspersons are making demands of the Department of Justice.

They compelled the department to “use every tool” available to crack down on price fixing in the oil industry.

FTC Investigation

In a letter Thursday to Attorney Merrick Garland and different authorities, the Democrats said a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) examination had pressing insights. 

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The Apex Building, headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission, on Constitution Avenue and 7th Streets in Washington, D.C.

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Primarily these were concerning a high-profile consolidation that revealed proof of cost fixing by oil chiefs which resulted in higher energy costs for American families and organizations.

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Colluding to Raise Oil Prices

The FTC said recently that Scott Sheffield, the previous CEO of Pioneer Natural Resources, plotted with OPEC and OPEC+ to possibly raise unrefined petroleum costs.

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Sheffield resigned from the organization in 2016 but returned as CEO in 2019. In the wake of resigning again in 2023, he stayed on to serve its board.

ExxonMobil Involvement

The FTC cleared ExxonMobil’s $60 billion arrangement to purchase Pioneer on May 2 however prevented Sheffield from joining the new organization’s governing body. 

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An ExxonMobil gas station in Hiawassee, Georgia, it is a sunny day, there is a blue house nearby.

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Pioneer, which has its headquarters in Dallas, stated that while it disagreed with the allegations, it would not prevent the merger, which was announced in 2023, from concluding.

Cost to American Households

In a report, the FTC expressed that the collusion by Pioneer and others might have cost the average American family up to $500 per vehicle in additional yearly fuel costs. 

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This cost was, according to the Democrats, “an unwelcome tax that is particularly burdensome for lower-income families.” 

Profits for Oil Companies

In the meantime, ExxonMobil and other major oil groups by and large earned more than $300 billion in profits over the last two years.

ExxonMobil Building, ExxonMobil offices in Downtown Houston, there is an American flag and a Texas flag outside the building.

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The Democrats describe this as “a surge that many market experts believe cannot be explained away by increased production costs from the pandemic or inflation.” 

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Industrywide Investigation

The letter compels the Justice Department to sign off on an industrywide investigation concerning potential infringement of the Sherman Antitrust Act. 

Department of Justice headquarters, it is a sunny day, and trees are lining the building.

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It explained how “Big Oil’s alleged collusion with OPEC is a national-security concern that aids countries looking to undermine the U.S.,” including Russia and Iran, among other nations.

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American Petroleum Institute Response

Officials “don’t know the details of the FTC’s allegations against one individual,” (Sheffield) according to a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute, the largest oil and gas industry lobbying group. 

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However, she added: “The reality is that U.S. producers answered the call to meet growing energy demand, despite a spate of inflationary policies from this administration that threaten our long-term energy security.”

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US Market

The US is the biggest unrefined petroleum producer on the planet. “American energy production has been a stabilizing force for consumers here at home and around the world, especially in the face of supply cuts from OPEC,” institute representative Andrea Woods said.

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The letter by Senate Democrats was the most recent in a series of concerted efforts that take aim at the oil industry.

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President Donald Trump's Involvement

During an April dinner with former President Donald Trump, Democrats are questioning whether Trump asked oil executives for $1 billion in campaign donations in exchange for reversing a slew of environmental rules and policies.

President Donald J. Trump, joined by Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, delivers remarks at a coronavirus update briefing

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These policies implemented by President Joe Biden, include the Democrat’s freeze on new liquefied natural gas export terminals. This inquiry was launched last week by Democrats.

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Trump Campaign Response

Trump campaign representative Karoline Leavitt said in a release on Thursday that Trump “is supported by people who share his vision of American energy dominance to protect our national security and bring down the cost of living for all Americans.”

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According to the Democrats’ investigation, Trump supposedly said he would safeguard or improve tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.

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Climate Inquiries

Independently, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland have made their own formal appellation to the Justice Department.

An oil drill at sunset, its shadow is present against the red sky

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The investigation pertains to whether Exxon, Chevron, and other oil organizations deceived the general population over decades about the environmental impacts of consuming non-renewable energy sources.

Twenty-three Democrats signed the letter that was made public on Thursday, including Schumer, Whitehouse, Washington state Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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