Lawsuit filed to stop BP, Amoco-Arco deal

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 1999

ANCHORAGE - A former state senator and a pair of 1998 gubernatorial candidates have filed a lawsuit seeking to stop BP Amoco's proposed buyout of Atlantic Richfield Co. on antitrust grounds.

The suit charges that BP Amoco and Arco already behave like monopolies on the North Slope, and that the pending deal - valued at more than $25 billion - would make matters even worse for the state.

``No other state will be tied so intimately to a single company for their primary source of revenues,'' the lawsuit reads. ``No other company will have the potential to control a state's revenues the way BP Amoco can control Alaska's if this merger is approved.''

The plaintiffs seek first to have the merger declared illegal, and failing that, to force BP Amoco to sell its interest in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system, along with a large chunk of its oil production and half of its leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

It also asks the court to order the companies to pay between $12 billion and $27 billion for past monopolistic conduct.

``(Alaskans) are the landlord and they are the tenants,'' said Nick Begich, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed Friday in Anchorage Superior Court. ``We need to assert our position as landlord.''

His co-plaintiffs are Ray Metcalfe, who ran for governor last year on the Republican Moderate ticket, and Vic Fischer, a former state senator from Anchorage. Begich was a declared write-in candidate for governor in 1998 as a member of the Alaskan Independence Party.

Their lawsuit also asks that the court declare that it was improper for the Knowles adminsitration to conduct closed-door negotiations with BP Amoco.

``Right now we have negotiations going on in secret,'' Metcalfe said. ``We're going to force the doors open.''

Those negotiations are related to conditions set by Knowles for granting state approval of the deal. Terms include selling enough producing oil leases to allow another company to become a major competitor on the North Slope, reducing the cost of shipping oil down the pipeline and providing access to natural gas reserves.

In a speech in August, Knowles said the proposed deal would represent ``an unacceptable monopolistic control of Alaska's resources.''

Despite Knowles' conditions, Begich said the public interest is never well-served when deals are cut in private.

``I believe by moving this issue into the courts, Alaskans will have an opportunity to see the numbers and look at the deal,'' he said.

Knowles has said he hopes to reveal a preliminary agreement with the company later this month.

BP Amoco and Arco are currently the only companies operating oil fields on the North Slope, which provides about 20 percent of the nation's domestic output.

Swallowing Arco would leave BP as the sole operator. It would control 70 percent of Slope production and more than 70 percent of the trans-Alaska pipeline.

The state budget is heavily dependent on income from North Slope production. Taxes and royalties provide more than two-thirds of Alaska's general fund revenue.

Ronnie Chappell, a spokesman for BP Amoco in Anchorage, said his company had not seen the lawsuit and wouldn't comment until the document was reviewed. A late-afternoon phone call to the governor's office was not immediately returned.

Fischer said he and the other plaintiffs filed their antitrust suit after concluding that the state would not pursue such a case, despite being urged to do so by a wide range of Alaskans who created a group called Backbone.

``It's got to be done,'' said Fischer, who was a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1955. ``It wasn't being done by others, so we stepped forward.''

The lawsuit restates several accusations made against BP Amoco and Arco over the years - among them, that they have used their pipeline ownership to choke off other competitors on the Slope and that excessive pipeline tariffs have cheated the state out of billions of dollars.

It also claims a merger would substantially reduce the number of exploratory wells drilled on the North Slope, which would in turn lead to lower production.

BP Amoco has maintained that a combined company would be benefit Alaska because production costs would be lower, thus making Alaska a more attractive place for investment.

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