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BP fined US$20m for rigging US natural gas markets

[NEW YORK] BP Plc faces more than US$20 million in penalties and surrendered profits after a US regulator found that the energy giant manipulated commodity markets in Texas.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said BP rigged prices at a Texas natural gas hub in 2008, according to an order issued Monday, upholding an earlier ruling by the agency's judge. BP had denied the allegations.

"We find the violation here to have been very serious," the commission said. "BP manipulated the market to profit from a natural disaster, and it did not stop after a trade or two but rather kept the scheme going for nearly three months."

FERC brought charges against London-based BP in August 2013. Traders at BP's Southeast Gulf Texas desk were accused of a scheme to lower next-day, fixed-price gas prices at the Houston Ship Channel hub from Sept 18 through Nov 30, 2008, to boost financial bets.

"BP strongly disagrees with the commission's decision," Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the company, said by e-mail late Monday. "BP will seek rehearing before the FERC and ultimately appeal to the Court of Appeals if necessary."

The decision should be reversed because there is "no credible evidence" that market manipulation occurred and the agency lacks jurisdiction over the trades at issue, Mr Morrell said.

BP was ordered to pay US$20.2 million in civil penalties, and to give up US$207,169 in unjust profits, within 60 days.