Ex-BP trader accuses company of manipulating gas prices

The former head of natural gas liquids trading at BP Plc (BP/)’s BP Energy Co. in Texas accused the company in a lawsuit of wrongfully firing him in order to manipulate the market and gouge Americans with inflated prices.

Drew Sickinger, in a complaint filed Jan. 30 in state court in Houston, said his removal leaves London-based BP positioned to engage in price manipulation by establishing a dominant and controlling position in the market. Details of the alleged plan aren’t revealed in the complaint.

Sickinger, who was fired in January, was warned by a supervisor before taking a medical leave in 2012 that “BP’s positions in the market and strategy although unlawful are proprietary and not to be disclosed,” according to the complaint, whose filing was reported earlier by Reuters.

“BP used all means available to it to rid itself of Sickinger and his knowledge of the positions that BP had taken in the market,” according to the complaint.

Sickinger is seeking unspecified damages for breach of contract, fraud and quantum meruit, a Latin phrase describing a doctrine of a promise to pay in the absence of a specific contract.

BP agreed to pay $303 million in October 2007 to settle U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission allegations relating to claims of market manipulation. In January 2009 a BP unit, Houston-based BP America Inc., agreed to pay $52 million to propane buyers who accused it of trying to monopolize the supply of gas flowing through a Texas pipeline in 2003 and actually doing so in 2004.

Personnel Issues

BP doesn’t generally discuss personnel issues or employment circumstances publicly, Scott Dean, a company spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Previous court settlements are a matter of record, but any additional public allegations of market misbehavior arising from this specific legal proceeding are untrue and without merit,” Dean said. “BP is not engaging, and will not engage, in any price or market manipulation. Our ongoing trading strategies are lawful and compliant.”

The case is Sickinger v. BP Energy Co., 2013-05955, District Court of Harris County, Texas (Houston).