By David Sheppard and Joshua Schneyer
NEW YORK, Jan 31 (Reuters) - A former trader at BP has filed
a lawsuit for breach of contract in which he alleges the British
company's Houston-based unit, BP Energy Co, is attempting to
manipulate the U.S. natural gas liquids market.
Drew Sickinger, who joined BP in Houston in 2009, said the
company "created a pretext" for disciplining him late last year
and then firing him earlier this month. He said he made $100
million for the company over the previous three years.
The complaint, filed Jan. 30 in Harris County, Texas,
includes allegations by Sickinger that BP is trying to
manipulate the natural gas liquids markets "by establishing a
dominant and controlling position."
The lawsuit does not include facts describing the basis for
those claims. Sickinger's lawyer, Raul Loya, said the
allegations against BP could spur a government investigation,
but he declined to offer further detail.
A BP spokesman denied the accusations in Sickinger's
"Allegations of market misbehavior arising from this legal
proceeding are untrue and without merit," BP spokesman Scott
Dean said in an email. "BP is not engaging, and will not engage,
in any price or market manipulation. Our ongoing trading
strategies are lawful and compliant."
BP declined to comment on the circumstances of Sickinger's
The regulator of the markets concerned, the U.S. Commodity
Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), declined to comment.
BP is one of the major North American traders of natural gas
liquids, which mainly have industrial and heating uses. But
prices of these commodities, which include propane and ethane,
have fallen sharply against benchmark crude oil over the last
year on brimming supplies from the boom in drilling of shale
formations. That has depressed earnings for some natural gas
liquids processors and traders.
In 2007, BP paid $303 million in fines to the CFTC to settle
criminal and civil cases related to propane market manipulation
earlier that decade.
Loya said BP's head of gas trading in Houston, Orlando
Alvarez, was involved in firing his client without just cause.
Alvarez is not named as a defendant in Sickinger's 10-page
BP declined to say if Alvarez was involved in Sickinger's
departure from the company. Alvarez could not be immediately
reached for comment.
"BP used all means available to it to rid itself of
Sickinger and his knowledge of the positions that BP has taken
in the market," the lawsuit stated.
(Additional reporting by Robert Gibbons, Robert Campbell and
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