Brazilian oil multinational Petrobras and Royal Dutch Shell are being accused by Argentina’s government of deliberately causing gasoline shortages in order to force rival YPF to raise its prices.
Argentina’s Planning minister Julio De Vido said the government would take steps to ensure the country’s oil refineries were working at full capacity and threatened to limit companies’ fuel exports if the shortages continued.
“Shell and Petrobras are disrupting the refining of oil to create a shortage in the domestic market and force YPF to increase its prices,” De Vido said in a statement.
The government’s inflation watchdog, Domestic Commerce Secretary Guillermo Moreno, will also send inspectors to monitor supplies at the country’s service stations, where rationing has been imposed in recent weeks.
The measures come a day after YPF, the local unit of Spanish oil major Repsol said it was importing 50 million liters of gasoline, or 315,000 barrels, from the United States following heavy demand that depleted its stocks and caused shortages at service stations.
YPF which sells gasoline at slightly cheaper prices, also accused its competitors of putting less of the fuel on sale as a way to force it to raise its prices. YPF had a 57.3% share of the country’s gasoline market in January and sales volume surged last year to a record.
Esso, the Argentine unit of Exxon Mobil, has denied YPF accusations. Petrobras said it had not experienced gasoline shortages at its service stations and that its refineries were operating normally.
Fuel costs in Argentina, which imports diesel but has exported gasoline historically, are about 15% below the international average because of government price controls aimed at stemming already high inflation. Fuel used by freight companies and passenger transport firms is also subsidized to keep down the cost of bus tickets, food and other goods.
Energy companies operating in Argentina have called for pump prices to be hiked as an incentive to boost investment in production and exploration for new reserves of crude and natural gas as energy demand grows. Argentina’s proven oil and natural gas reserves fell 9% and 39%, respectively, between 2001 and 2008, and exports have plunged.
YPF, which once belonged to the Argentine State controls more than half of Argentina’s refining capacity and nearly 40% of its oil output.