* IEA says strong global demand mostly behind price run-up
* U.S. refining operations for May lowest since 1985
* Refiners say weak U.S. gasoline demand reduce operations
(Adds comments from IEA official, details on FTC probe)
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, June 21 Oil refineries running at
the lowest capacity in nearly three decades years does not
indicate that U.S. refiners are manipulating prices for
gasoline and other products, an official with the International
Energy Agency said on Tuesday.
The Federal Trade Commission said on Monday it would
investigate, in part, whether U.S. refiners operating at about
82 percent of capacity in May, down around 7 percentage points
from a year earlier, was an attempt to limit petroleum supplies
in the market.
May's 82 percent utilization rate for refiners was the
lowest for the pre-summer driving season 1985.
"Our analysis has not shown anything particularly unusual
in through-put rates so far" at U.S. refineries, David Fyfe,
who heads the IEA's Oil Industry and Market Division, told
reporters after speaking at a conference in Washington.
When pressed further on whether the IEA had seen anything
to indicate U.S. refiners were trying to manipulate the market,
he responded, "We certainly haven't come across anything that
Fyfe emphasized that the IEA takes a broader view of energy
issues and does not have the resources like the FTC to zero in
on what is occurring in the U.S. refining sector.
Oil traders and analysts have said the low runs at
refineries were mainly the result of weaker gasoline demand
caused by the recession, high unemployment and more ethanol
being mixed into motor fuel.
If U.S. refiners were keeping gasoline off the market to
manipulate prices, then foreign traders would export more fuel
to the U.S. to market to make a profit, which has not been the
case, they said.
(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Alden Bentley)