Bob Tippee

Anyone legitimately worried about high gasoline prices would welcome a federal investigation finding no evidence of "price-gouging" after Hurricane Katrina last year.

Yet when the Federal Trade Commission reported findings like that on May 22, Democratic members of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee objected.

"This is business as usual from the FTC," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) complained. "This report is a lot of work that says nothing, and the oil companies are laughing all the way to the bank. This report proves that this administration is owned and operated by big oil."

Before a Commerce Committee hearing on the report, ranking minority-party member Daniel Inouye of Hawaii declared, "This report does not convince me that consumers were treated fairly."

At least Inouye, unlike Boxer, bothered to offer something other than personal outrage to explain his doubts about the FTC report, which said markets, not manipulation, caused post-Katrina price jumps.

The 180 days FTC spent on its investigation didn't represent enough time to uncover misbehavior, Inouye argued. The commission based much of its work on "previous work and evidence collected from other investigations in order to meet the deadline."

What's more, gasoline prices in Atlanta reached $6/gal after Katrina, and oil company profit margins increased—"an important piece of evidence," Inouye said, that the FTC report "declined to examine."

These are bogus concerns. Time spent on the investigation is irrelevant. The FTC watches for anticompetitive behavior all the time. It has conducted numerous investigations and found no systematically unfair pricing.

High prices—$6/gal or any level in Atlanta or anywhere else—are not evidence of "gouging." They're evidence of strained supply, which happens when a market suddenly loses a third of its manufacturing capacity. Nor do elevated profit margins reflect "gouging"; they are predictable and unsustainable results of a price surge.

No matter where it begins or how long it takes, an investigation can't find what doesn't exist. A competitive market won't allow "price-gouging." It's that simple.

Boxer, Inouye, and others who argue otherwise are either economically bone-headed or shamefully committed to a witch-hunt that puts politics ahead of public interest.

(Online June 2, 2006; author's e-mail:

Related Articles

Twists of activists’ dogma freshens view of global warming


Fresh perspective on global warming, a topic that needs it, comes from a geologist.

Emerging producers offered guidelines for governance

06/26/2015 Like most worthy endeavors, governing oil and gas activity at the national level is easier said than done—especially where oil and gas never before...

New king reshaping Saudi oil industry; extent still unclear


A new ruler is making important changes in the state-run petroleum industry of the world’s most influential oil-producing nation.

Energy prominent among US rules due in next 12 months


Energy figures prominently in a regulatory blitz taking shape as the Obama administration approaches its end.

Political, technical problems seen for energy-subsidy reform


Fossil-energy subsidies receive more talk than action, too much of it politically opportunistic.

Oil-demand curve’s flattening adds to pressure on OPEC

06/01/2015 When leaders of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries meet in Vienna on June 5, they should heed a stern signal from the oil market.

Coast Guard cadets summoned to battle climatological foe

05/22/2015 Confusion evident in President Barack Obama’s commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy raises a question bearing on American foreign policy:...

OPEC production well above quota for second month


Supply data out this week provide a useful reminder about behavior of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Quick supply change a vital factor in oil market recovery


Large among questions hanging over an oil market groping for balance is the behavior of short-fuse supply.

White Papers

UAS Integration for Infrastructure: More than Just Flying

Oil and gas companies recognize the benefits that the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) c...

Solutions to Financial Distress Resulting from a Weak Oil and Gas Price Environment

The oil and gas industry is in the midst of a prolonged worldwide downturn in commodity prices. While ...
Sponsored by

2015 Global Engineering Information Management Solutions Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership Award

The Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Awards recognise companies in a variety of regional and global...
Sponsored by

Three Tips to Improve Safety in the Oil Field

Working oil fields will always be tough work with inherent risks. There’s no getting around that. Ther...
Sponsored by

Pipeline Integrity: Best Practices to Prevent, Detect, and Mitigate Commodity Releases

Commodity releases can have catastrophic consequences, so ensuring pipeline integrity is crucial for p...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Digital Asset Approach - Defining a new era of collaboration in capital projects and asset operations

There is constant, intensive change in the capital projects and asset life cycle management. New chall...
Sponsored by

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry with EPPM

With budgets in the billions, timelines spanning years, and life cycles extending over decades, oil an...
Sponsored by

Asset Decommissioning in Oil & Gas: Transforming Business

Asset intensive organizations like Oil and Gas have their own industry specific challenges when it com...
Sponsored by
Available Webcasts

Operating a Sustainable Oil & Gas Supply Chain in North America

When Tue, Oct 20, 2015

Short lead times and unpredictable conditions in the Oil & Gas industry can create costly challenges in supply chains. By implementing a LEAN culture of continuous improvement you can eliminate waste, increase productivity and gain end-to-end visibility leading to a sustainable and well-oiled supply chain.

Please join us for this webcast sponsored by Ryder System, Inc.


On Demand

Leveraging technology to improve safety & reliability

Tue, Sep 22, 2015

Attend this informative webinar to learn more about how to leverage technology to meet the new OSHA standards and protect your employees from the hazards of arc flash explosions.


The Resilient Oilfield in the Internet of Things World

Tue, Sep 22, 2015

As we hear about the hype surrounding the Internet of Things, the oil and gas industry is questioning what is different than what is already being done. What is new?  Using sensors and connecting devices is nothing new to our mode of business and in many ways the industry exemplifies many principles of an industrial internet of things. How does the Internet of Things impact the oil and gas industry?

Prolific instrumentation and automation digitized the industry and has changed the approach to business models calling for a systems led approach.  Resilient Systems have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining their central purpose.  A resilient system, such as Maximo, allows an asset intensive organization to leverage connected devices by merging real-time asset information with other critical asset information and using that information to create a more agile organization.  

Join this webcast, sponsored by IBM, to learn how about Internet of Things capabilities and resilient systems are impacting the landscape of the oil and gas industry.


Taking the Headache out of Fuel License and Exemption Certificates: How to Ensure Compliance

Tue, Aug 25, 2015

This webinar, brought to you by Avalara, will detail the challenges of tax document management, as well as recommend solutions for fuel suppliers. You will learn:

-    Why it’s critical to track business partner licenses and exemption documents
-    The four key business challenges of ensuring tax compliance through document management
-    Best practice business processes to minimize exposure to tax errors


Emerson Micro Motion Videos

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!


Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected