U.S. Commission Postpones Vote Over BP-Arco Merger

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission on Thursday abruptly postponed a meeting set for Friday, and a source said the commission was in touch with BP Amoco to study its latest proposal to settle possible antitrust charges.

The FTC had been poised to vote to challenge BP Amoco's proposed $27 billion purchase of Atlantic Richfield Corp. in court.

But the commission reset the meeting of its five commissioners for Monday afternoon, giving it three days to consider any proposal that could avoid litigation.

The votes of at least three commissioners are required to take the case to court.

The FTC announced the change by altering its calendar to cancel the Friday meeting and set a new one for Monday. A spokeswoman declined to comment on the subject of either the canceled meeting or the meeting set for Monday.

BP Amoco has engaged in negotiations for months in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit.

As previously reported, the staff formally recommended in late November that the commission vote to halt the deal. Such recommendations always pose a formidable barrier to any settlement of cases.

A major focus of this case has been oil that is produced in Alaska and shipped down the West Coast for use in the states of Washington, California and Oregon.

BP Amoco and Arco together produce 800,000 barrels of the 1.1 million barrels produced each day in Alaska. BP Amoco has no refineries on the West Coast, while Arco must supplement the 350,000 barrels per day it produces with other sources to feed its West Coast refineries.

The state of Alaska, which receives payments from the production of oil in Alaska, strongly backs the merger. But other politicians on the West Coast have raised questions about it, concerned that the high gasoline prices on the West Coast might go even higher.