OAKLAND, March 18, 2022– As gas prices in California continue to rise precipitously, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today sent a letter to refineries active in the California market warning them against illegal market manipulation and other violations of state antitrust laws. While gas prices reflect a number of factors, too often, market disruption creates opportunity for market manipulation. In the letter, Attorney General Bonta calls on these businesses to keep a close eye out for manipulation and to immediately report any anticompetitive behavior. Californians who believe they have information on potential violations of the law can report it at oag.ca.gov/report.
“The ongoing Russian war against Ukraine is heartbreaking and unacceptable. As California stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, we are also preparing for the impact that recent sanctions may have here at home,” said Attorney General Bonta. “In recent days, we’ve seen the average price of gas in California shoot past $5.75 a gallon. This has a very real impact on many Californians, particularly those already struggling to make ends meet. During this turbulent time, I want to warn oil refineries against taking advantage of the current market disruption. My office is currently litigating against multinational gas trading firms SK Energy Americas and Vitol for anticompetitive conduct, we are closely monitoring the market, and we will not hesitate to take action against others if they violate the law. I urge anyone with evidence of illegal activity to report it to our office at oag.ca.gov/report.”
In 2020, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against multinational gas trading firms SK Energy Americas and Vitol for allegedly manipulating California’s gas prices and costing consumers more at the pump. Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the companies took advantage of the market disruption following a February 2015 explosion at a gasoline refinery in Torrance, California to engage in a scheme to increase gas prices. Litigation in this case is ongoing.
In 2017, DOJ successfully challenged oil giant Valero’s planned acquisition of the last remaining independent petroleum storage facility in Northern California, which would have led to increased prices at the pump across the state.
A copy of the letter can be found here.