Sign outside a BP gas station in Chicago
Sign outside a BP gas station in Chicago - 


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Regulators in the US have filed a lawsuit against the British oil giant BP. They're charging it with manipulating the price of propane. The company is accused of artificially driving up the cost of heating and cooking oil for millions of Americans From London, Stephen Beard has more.

STEPHEN BEARD: The US regulator claims that BP tried to corner the market in propane. The company allegedly bought up nearly all supplies stored in a major Texas-to-New York pipeline.

As a result, says the regulator, BP traders were able to drive the price of propane up by more 50 percent at one point in the winter of 2004. Millions of Americans living in mobile homes or in rural communities were affected.

The regulator is basing part of its case on recordings of phone conversations between BP traders like this one:

TRADER:"What we stand to gain is not just that we'd make money out of it. But we would know from thereafter that we could control the market at will. "

BP has now dismissed seven employees but denies that the company was attempting to manipulate the market in propane.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.