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May 27, 2005
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Friday, May 27, 2005

Shell's refinery closure ruled not price-gouging


Shell Oil Co. wasn't trying to tighten gasoline supplies and boost prices in California when it decided to close a Bakersfield-area refinery, federal regulators concluded.

The Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday that it would end a yearlong antitrust investigation that found no evidence the oil company was involved in a price-gouging scheme in California, which had the nation's highest gas prices.

"We're pleased that the FTC has reached this conclusion," Shell spokesman Stan Mays said.

The Bakersfield refinery employed several hundred people and had a capacity of 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

Houston-based Shell, a unit of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group, announced in 2003 that it would close the 72-year-old inland refinery, which produces 2 percent of California's gasoline and 6 percent of its diesel.

Shell, which had two other California refineries, argued that the inland plant was too old and inefficient to compete with coastal facilities and that production in the Kern County oil fields was declining.

The oil company delayed closure under pressure from state lawmakers.

In March, the refinery was sold to Flying J Inc., a Utah truck-stop operator.

Shell also had been under investigation by the state Attorney General's Office but that probe will close soon, said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for Attorney General Bill Lockyer.

The refinery's sale "basically addressed our concerns that we were going to lose that much-needed fuel," Dresslar said.

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