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Gulf Crisis Trumps Antitrust Concerns

Posted  June 18, 2010

Cooperation among competitors is usually the kind of activity that raises antitrust concerns.  However, with thousands of barrels of dirty crude oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico on a daily basis, the head of Federal Trade Commission is seeking to ease concerns that cooperation among competing energy companies to help the federal government solve the crisis in the Gulf would face scrutiny under federal antitrust laws.

In response to a letter from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy seeking the FTC’s position on such collaboration, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz wrote that “[a]lthough we must always be watchful when competitors collaborate, industry efforts to work with Federal officials and provide expertise to combat this ecological disaster are unlikely to raise concerns under the antitrust laws, and we would be unlikely to challenge such an effort.”  Chairman Leibowitz added that the “impact of the oil spill appears likely to be an enormous tragedy for the people and economy of the Gulf and we would like to help any way that we can.”

The issue of collaboration among energy companies was raised because BP officials have acknowledged that they were not technologically prepared to deal with a disaster such as the one now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.  A number of BP’s competitors, including ExxonMobile, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, have provided support to BP and government officials to help get the oil leak under control.

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