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    Tesoro Loses Bid

    Alaska Supreme Court deals state investigation a victory; price-fixing probe continues.

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled against Tesoro Petroleum Corp.'s attempt to limit the scope of the state attorney general's investigation into possible price fixing of gasoline and other fuels.

    Tesoro had appealed a lower court ruling requiring the company to turn over scores of internal documents, and that state officials had the right to show the documents to a San Francisco law firm hired to help with the probe, according to the Anchorage Daily News.

    The high court ruled that the state wasn't seeking an "unreasonable and oppressive" stack of records. The state argues that despite having the largest oil fields in North America plus enough refining capacity to supply local fuel needs, Alaska still has some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation. As part of the investigation into possible price fixing by fuel companies, the state in summer 1999 sent "civil investigative demands" to numerous oil refining, marketing and retailing companies seeking records about pricing, profits, marketing and strategy, the report said.

    Tesoro, which operates a refinery and dozens of gas stations in Anchorage and other parts of the state, led a group of companies in resisting the demands. The San Antonio-based company said it was being forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to compile hundreds of boxes of possibly irrelevant records dating back 10 years or more to satisfy the state.

    Ron Noel, general counsel for Tesoro in Alaska, said the company already had turned over all requested records to the state by the middle of last year.

    The company firmly denies it has conspired to limit competition and keep fuel prices high in Alaska, Noel said.

    Jack Griffin, supervisor of the Alaska attorney general's oil, gas and mining section, said the investigation continues, but stressed that Alaska officials are not accusing fuel suppliers of illegal conduct.

    "People have complained about the price of gasoline," he said. "We're trying to find out if the price of gasoline is the result of companies breaking the law, or the result of normal market forces."

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