Merger in Jeopardy

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Merger in Jeopardy

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's attorney general is urging federal regulators to block the proposed merger of Conoco Inc. and Phillips Petroleum Co., saying it could drive up the price of gasoline in his state.

Attorney General Mike Hatch, in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), said the two companies represent a concentration of market share - particularly in rural Minnesota - that could stifle competition if they merge, the Associated Press reported.

"We believe that the merger is anticompetitive and will adversely impact the gasoline supply at the supplier level and, in selected parts of Minnesota, adversely impact gasoline prices at the retail level," Hatch told the FTC.

For example, in St. Cloud, 24 of the 43 filling stations carry the Conoco and Phillips brand names, according to Hatch. While FTC officials do not talk about ongoing investigations, Mitch Katz, spokesman for the agency, said objections like Hatch's are taken seriously.

Hatch also said the state may sue if federal regulators approve the merger without conditions.

Houston-based Conoco and Bartlesville, Okla.-based Phillips announced plans to merge last November. The FTC is expected to rule on the plan by the end of June. The new company, which would be known as ConocoPhillips, would be the third-largest oil company in the United States and the sixth-largest in the world, the report said.

Officials at Conoco and Phillips said few of the gas stations in Minnesota are company-owned. Conoco spokeswoman Sue Reed said the company owns no convenience stores in Minnesota but does own the Wrenshall Transportation Terminal, where products are stored.