Panel opts against action taken on merger

Senator says BP consessions might satisfy his concerns

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Although most members clearly don't favor a merger between BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield Co., the Joint Special Committee on Mergers didn't make recommendations after investigating the $27 billion oil industry mega-deal.

The committee on Monday released a report that included conclusions of hired experts who determined no merger was the best result Alaska could hope for.

Sen. Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican and chairman of the merger committee, said he'd heard word of possible concessions by BP that would appease him. However, there's little way of knowing what the status of talks between BP and the Federal Trade Commission are, he said. Given the unknowns, it didn't make sense to recommend action to the full Legislature on the merger.

The FTC is expected to decide whether to approve or to try to block the merger in court by midnight Feb. 3.

``We expected a conclusion by now,'' Halford said.

According to published reports, the FTC has scheduled a closed-door meeting for Friday, when it may make a decision whether or not to block the deal.

The trade commission has consistently questioned the takeover, contending that such oil industry consolidation would give BP too much control over West Coast oil deliveries, potentially increasing gasoline prices. The FTC reviews proposed mergers to assure they don't violate antitrust rules.

Last week, BP officials said negotiations had resumed with the FTC and that hopes remain that terms could be agreed to that would allow the merger.

Speaker of the House Brian Porter, an Anchorage Republican and committee member, agreed with Halford. ``I feel rather in a box as to the fact that ... we don't know what an (committee) opinion one way or another would do to those negotiations,'' he said.

Other committee members wanted the committee to take a stand on the merger.

Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula, a Democrat, said the committee will meet again once BP's legal dance with the FTC is over. Although no legislative recommendation will happen before then, Kerttula said she'll let federal regulators know how she feels.

``I would personally like to see a recommendation . . . that we oppose the merger,'' Kerttula said today. ``I plan on making sure the FTC knows what I think.''

Gov. Tony Knowles, a Democrat, has pushed for the FTC's approval. He arranged a charter agreement - including divestitures of North Slope assets to other oil companies - that he said addressed Alaska's antitrust concerns.

``We continue to think the charter agreement is in the state's best interests,'' said Bob King, Knowles' press secretary. ``We will continue to push for it and the merger.''

If the FTC sues to block the merger, the state will likely be in court too. ``We're looking at ways that state could participate to protect its interests,'' King said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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