March 20, 2008 / 12:52 PM / 10 years ago

Obama eyes active role in oil markets

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrat Barack Obama would take an active role in U.S. oil markets as president, tackling concerns about the dominance of large oil companies and eyeing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as a potential weapon to combat high prices, his top energy adviser said.

Jason Grumet told Reuters that an Obama administration would crack down on any competition lapses in the sector that have resulted from big corporate mergers and would consider releasing oil from the U.S. strategic reserves as a way to bring down the price of gasoline.

Fleshing out the Illinois senator’s energy and environmental policy goals, Grumet also said Obama would seek to link a future U.S. carbon emissions trading system with the European Union’s scheme as soon as possible while focusing attention on China and India in forging a global warming pact.

Grumet, head of the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center in addition to advising the Obama campaign, said the oil industry had “concentrated incredible market power in a small number of companies” in a way that caused alarm.

“Senator Obama has a deep concern that the consolidation of the industry -- these national mergers, you know, that were allowed under both Clinton and Bush administrations -- are a cause for some concern,” he said.

He said an Obama administration would examine “whether these mergers and consolidations have decreased competition in a way, concentrated market power in a way, that is undermining to consumers.”

Grumet declined to identify specific companies and would not comment on whether Obama would seek to break up dominant players. Leading U.S. oil firms include ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., and ConocoPhillips.

“It is premature to try to articulate what the remedy is,” Grumet said. “There are indications that there could be some problems there and...the (Bush) administration has been a bit asleep at the switch, so we would be digging into those questions aggressively.”

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)

Editing by Lori Santos and Vicki Allen

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