Memorandum for the Attorney General Relative to a Request for Grand Jury Authorization to Investigate the International Oil Cartel, June 24, 1952

From: Burton I. Kaufman, The Oil Cartel Case: A Documentary Study of Antitrust Activity in the Cold War Era (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1978), pp. 123-36.

SOURCE: Department of Justice File, 60-57-140.

Investigations conducted by the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the United States Senate's Special Committee Investigating the National Defense Program and the Swedish Oil Administration have revealed the existence of a series of agreements among the seven largest oil companies in the world to divide markets, to distribute on a quota basis, to fix prices and to control the production of oil throughout the world. These agreements are in violation of the antitrust laws of the United States.

The seven principal international oil companies are Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), Standard Oil Company of California, The Texas Company, Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Inc., Gulf Oil Corporation, Royal Dutch Shell group and Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.

The facts subsequently set forth in this memorandum disclose that these companies have been engaged in arrangements, agreements and understandings which have been designed to and which in fact have restrained and monopolized foreign trade in crude oil and petroleum products, including the import and export trade of the United States.


The seven principal international oil companies directly control 66.75% of the oil reserves of the world, which amount to approximately 78 billion barrels. Six of the seven companies control 33.6% of the reserves of the United States, which are estimated at 28 billion barrels. Throughout the world 9.5 million barrels of crude oil are produced per day, of which the United States produces 56.73%. The seven international companies produce about 50% of the world production. In such countries as Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrem, Burma, and Borneo one or more of the seven companies produce 100% of the oil. In 1950 six of the seven companies produced 36% of the crude oil in the United States.

As late as 1946 five of the international companies obtained 58% of their crude oil in the United States and 42% abroad. However, in 1950 the same companies reduced their domestic production to 42% of their requirements and obtained 58% abroad. While exports of oil from the United States are continuously reducing, imports have increased to nearly one million barrels per day, which reflects the increasing dependence of this country on foreign production. In 1925 the average posted price for a barrel of crude oil at the well in the United States averaged $1.68; this average declined to 67~ in 1933; leveled off at $1.00 per barrel in 1934; and in 1948 the average price increased to $2.60 and has remained at that figure to the present day. The American Gulf Coast price for a barrel of crude oil today averages $3. The average price is arrived at by adding to the well price the cost of transportation by pipeline to the terminals on the Gulf Coast. The American Gulf Coast price has become an inflexible world base price.


Agreements among the dominant oil companies of the world were entered into as early as 1928 and as late as November, 1948. The continuing vigor of the agreements is indicated by the fact that an official observer at the World Petroleum Congress, in a special report entitled The Third World Petroleum Congress filed with the Select Committees on Small Business, United States Senat'e and United States House of Representatives, on December 29, 1951, found that the same companies were carrying out their illegal programs at the present time by supplying the increasing world demand on the basis of the allocation of world markets to areas of production controlled by the seven companies.

Thus, the increase in United States consumption is to be supplied by Caribbean and Canadian production rather than through an increase of domestic production. The European and Asian demand is to be supplied by the Middle East. Since United States Gulf Coast prices quoted and paid for crude oil and petroleum products are adopted by the conspira. tors as the basis for world prices, the curtailment of domestic production serves to keep prices high throughout the world.


Standard and Shell were for many years and still are the two dominant concerns in international petroleum trade, each being fully integrated through subsidiaries in all branches of the petroleum industry in practically every country of the world. During the 1920's, the two companies expanded rapidly, each acquiring important producing properties and establishing many new sales outlets. As a result, they found themselves competing vigorously throughout the world, often cutting their prices to secure or retain accounts.

During this early period, Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now Anglo-Iranian), in which Shell owned a minor interest, began developing its concession in Persia and looking for new markets for its production. Walter Teagle of Standard and Sir Henri Deterding, managing director of Shell, made numerous visits to England and the United States, in the interest of concluding a cooperative working arrangement among the three competitors.

Finally, in September 1928, the three companies entered into the "Achnacarry Agreement" to eliminate competition among themselves, to prevent overproduction, to divide world markets on an "as is" basis, and to use common management associations, with penalties to be assessed for violation of assigned quotas. In working out this agreement, they selected the year 1928 as the base period for measuring the relative business positions of the companies in the various world markets. Because of Standard's fear of the American antitrust laws, the parties purposely refrained from signing the final agreement.


The "Achnacarry Agreement" was implemented by the "Red Line Agreement," negotiated at approximately the same time; the temporary use of an Export Petroleum Association under the Webb-Pomerene Act; the "Memorandum for European Markets of 1930"; the "Draft Memorandum of Principles of 1934"; and numerous local agreements. All of these documents, when taken together as a whole, formed a rigid code of rules for the control of world oil at high prices by a few corporations. When competition from outside the group was experienced, the invading company was either destroyed or taken in as a party for a small quota of the total business in a limited area.

The "Red Line Agreement" of 1928 was entered into for the purpose of controlling all of the crude oil reserves in what was then Asia Minor and Arabia. Standard, Anglo-Iranian and Shell took in Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, C. S. Gulbenkian, and a French company which had acquired a small concession by reason of the San Remo Treaty.

In 1928, Standard Oil Company submitted to the Federal Trade Commission a plan for the Export Petroleum Association, Inc. to engage solely in export trade under the provisions of the Webb-Pomerene Export Trade Act. The stock of this Association was held by 15 American oil companies, including the Shell group. Practically the first action of the Export Association was the adoption of the basing point pricing system of the "Achnacarry Agreement." After investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, the Association collapsed because it was found that it was operating in violation of the Webb-Pomerene Export Trade Act. The Association frankly admitted in its correspondence with the Commission that the "as is" positions of its principal members were to be maintained by all members. "As is" positions were defined by the Association to mean "the ratios established by the 1928 performance."

The "Memorandum for European Markets of 1930" followed the collapse of the Export Association and the importation into the United States by Shell of large quantities of low cost oil from Venezuela. This document, negotiated by the same three international companies, established quotas for marketing, and local price-fixing arrangements.


The activities of Shell and Standard became so far flung that finally it became necessary to promulgate the "Draft Memorandum of Principles of 1934" for the guidance of the local representatives of the parties to the "Archnacarry Agreement." All of the arrangements were stipulated to be of indefinite duration unless terminated by one month's notice. Each participant, including outside concerns, was to be allotted a percentage quota of the total consumption for each petroleum product for every country or area during a 12-month period. The 1928 volume of business, adjusted for future increases in consumption, was adopted as the "as is" basis. Each participant placed a representative on the "London Committee" charged with interpreting rules and settling disputes.

Local meetings to be attended by the managing directors of the operating subsidiaries were to be held once a month. At these meetings, each participant was to present its invoiced deliveries. Outsiders' deliveries were to be estimated. Then the total consumption was to be estimated and the percentage of each participant in the total trade agreed upon. Each participant was bound to maintain his allotted position in the market and to avoid over and under-trading in relation to other participants, but over-trading in relation to outsiders was encouraged.

After arriving at the basic agreement, Standard established in England a group of executives known as the "London Counsel" (later incorporated under the name International Association for Petroleum Industry, Ltd.), to be constantly available for conferences and negotiations with Shell. This arrangement was made in an effort to remove the management of Standard's foreign marketing from the jurisdiction of the United States antitrust laws. At the present time the principal office of Standard in New York continues to make all important decisions and the London office serves merely in a liaison capacity.

In order for the American participants in the "Achnacarry Agreement" to carry out their obligations without too many of the American concerns becoming signatory parties to the Agreement, joint ventures were created among the American companies. For instance, Standard Oil (New Jersey) and Standard Oil Company of New York organized Standard-Vacuum Oil Company to conduct integrated operations in the Far East.

The same companies organized International Aviation Associates in 1936, later known as "Intava," for the purpose of jointly distributing aviation products in foreign countries. The arrangement provided, among other things, that the two companies should sell their products under a common name and in fixed relative amounts, that the distributive facilities of both concerns should be utilized, and that the profits resulting therefrom should be divided according to certain agreed-upon percentages for each product sold. The arrangement was integrated with the "DMOP" of 1934. Much of the aviation gasoline and all of the aviation lubricants and special products sold through "Intava" have been exported from the United States.


In certain parts of the Western Hemisphere, Standard and Shell in carrying out the "DMOP" had to share the market with other American companies. For instance, as early as 1930 the two companies found The Texas Company and The Atlantic Refining Company doing business in Brazil. Pursuant to the "DMPO" principles, Texas and Atlantic were allowed to participate, and sales quotas were fixed for all four companies, such quotas applying both to those petroleum products shipped from the United States and to those shipped from foreign points.

In El Salvador, Standard and Shell had originally divided the total business between themselves, but on January 1, 1938, Shell agreed to withdraw from Central America in return for Standard's temporary withdrawal from Venezuela. Standard thereupon took in The Texas Company and Standard of California as participants in the local cartel. In the Dominican Republic the cartel was originally composed of Shell, Standard, Texas and Trinidad Leaseholds, Ltd., who established quotas, allocated customers and fixed the exact prices at which customers could be supplied. The Sinclair Refining Company invaded the Dominican Republic and for a short period a concerted effort was made to drive Sinclair out of the market. Upon failure of this effort, the parties persuaded Sinclair to become a member of the cartel and assigned to it a "DMOP" quota.


In 1933 Standard Oil Company of California obtained a petroleum concession in Saudi Arabia which is lQcated wholly within the territory embraced in the "Red Line Agreement." A short time later the concession was transferred to Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), of which Standard of California and The Texas Company became joint owners. Aramco developed a reserve estimated at nine billion barrels and built a refinery on the Persian Gulf. With low cost of production, these operations became extremely profitable.

At the same time, the two owners of Aramco were upsetting, to a certain extent, the "Achnacarry" and "DMOP" principles. On the excuse that Aramco's owners were "unable to finance" a pipeline to the Mediterranean, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) and Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, Inc. were admitted to partnership in Aramco. Standard brought 30% of Aramco stock and Socony 10% and both agreed to guarantee loans totalling $273,000,000, made from a group of American banks. They also became parties with The Texas Company and Standard of California to a series of joint contracts for the purchase of oil from Aramco for a period of 18 years, in proportion to their stock holdings (i.e., the ratio 3:3:3:1). This provided for the transfer of effective control of Aramco to the two American companies, Jersey and Socony, which were the American partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company deal under the "Red Line Agreement."

In November 1948 a new "Red Line" agreement was negotiated. It merely reaffirmed the old arrangement with the exception of allowing Gulbenkian certain additional rights in settlement of his claim that the taking of the concession by Aramco in Saudi Arabia amounted to a breach of the original 1928 agreement. Throughout World War lithe basic principles contained in the various agreements were maintained, except as the necessities of war forced readjustments.

Following the 1947-1948 agreements, the international companies began entering into contracts with one another for the purchase and sale of oil between themselves to even up the control of various oil producing areas among the participants.

Gulf Oil Corporation, which was not a party to the "Red Line" or Aramco arrangements, entered into an agreement with Shell in May 1947 by which Gulf would sell to Shell over a 12-year period increasingly large quantities of oil produced in Kuwait, outside the "Red Line" area, in which Gulf had a partnership with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Gulf did not have a position in the European and African markets. Shell needed Gulf's oil to preserve its "as is" position in those markets.

Following Gulf's contract with Shell, Anglo-Iranian in turn made a series of agreements with both Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) and Socony-Vacuum in September 1947 and March 1948 to sell to the latter two companies, over a 20-year period, large quantities of Iranian production (amounting to over one billion barrels) at a "cost plus" price, the "plus" being fixed at a definite percentage of profit throughout the 20-year period. The contract between Standard and Anglo-Iranian provided that Standard could not distribute any of this purchased oil east of the Suez. In March 1948 an agreement between Anglo-Iranian and Socony, covering 300,000,000 barrels of oil over a 20.year period, stipulated that purchases under this particular agreement would be imported into the United States.



Information has been received by the Department to the effect that the marketing quotas and the prices for the various foreign countries are determined by representatives of the American participants and Shell who meet in New York City four times yearly. We also are informed that a group of oil company representatives known only by the initials "C.A.C." began operations in New York City on approximately March 31, 1950. This group is described as a private purchasing agency which purchases petroleum products in the United States to fill the orders of the cartel members for shipment to Europe.

Following the expulsion of Anglo-Iranian Oil Company from Iran, Asiatic Petroleum Company, Ltd. (a Shell subsidiary) has been purchasing large quantities of petroleum products in the United States to fill the orders of Anglo-Iranian and Shell for shipment to the Eastern Hemisphere. It is understood that this organization has the cooperation of the American companies who are parties to the "DMOP" arrangement in finding supplies in the United States to fill such orders.

Many of the presently existing "spot shortages" of petroleum products in this country are alleged to be due to the purchasing activities of both "C.A.C." and Asiatic. The result, whatever the purpose, is to sustain the "spot market" at the highest prices in history.


The basic arrangements entered into under the "Achnacarry Agreement" appear to extend into the refining branch of the industry, as well as production and marketing. In the catalytic refining and the coal hydrogenation processes fields, Standard, in dealing with I. G. Farben as early as 1928, took in Shell and Anglo-Iranian as partners in developing and licensing the processes through the world.

Shell became a 50% partner in International Hydro Patents Company and shared with Standard the right to license the process, but "it was agreed that licenses should not be issued to an extent or in a manner to disturb the existing marketing position of the respective companies." Provision was also made for the inclusion, in the future, of Anglo-Iranian. upon a basis proportionate to its existing marketing position. In 1938, the IHP Company Agreement was extended to include the hydrocarbon synthesis field for the world, outside the United States and Canada, and Standard and Shell again obtained complete control throughout the world, outside of Germany, of all important processes for the synthetic production of petroleum products.


In 1938 and 1939, Standard and Shell negotiated with the principal American oil companies the Catalytic Agreement (generally called CRA), which became effective in September 1939. Under the terms of this agreement, Standard Oil (New Jersey), The Texas Company, Standard Oil (Indiana), Shell Development Company, Universal Oil Products Company, and M. W. Kellogg Company formed a pool of patents covering the fluid catalytic cracking process. Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was designated as a "cooperative" party to the agreement.

It was the purpose of this pooi to gather together all patents, inventions and "know-how" relating to catalytic refining processes and license the use of the same throughout the world on terms and conditions which were plainly in violation of the antitrust laws. The correspondence and memoranda found in Standard's files indicated that licenses granted outside of the United States were to be only to those companies who either already enjoyed an "as is" position under the "DMOP" arrangements or who would agree to sell most of their production under such licenses to participants in the "DMOP" arrangement.

On March 25, 1942, a criminal information was filed by the Department of Justice against the Standard Oil Company, its subsidiaries and certain of its officers, alleging Sherman Act violations in the execution of and operations under the various agreements. The defendants entered pleas of nolo contendere and paid substantial fines. On the same date a consent decree was entered to a complaint outlawing the CRA and hydrogenation arrangements. Immediately thereafter, the Petroleum Administration for War found it necessary to recreate the CRA arrangement in order to obtain aviation gasoline to prosecute the war. Between August 7, 1942 and October 15, 1945 this agreement had immunity from the antitrust laws under Public Law 603. Since that date, numerous attempts have been made by this Department to liberalize and make the agreement ineffective but this has been difficult, particularly for the reason that patent rights granted under the agreement run for the life of the patents.


In 1944, the United States Navy attempted to buy petroleum products on the Persian Gulf for fueling the American fleet. Aramco offered to supply the Navy, for delivery in Navy tankers at the Persian Gulf, petroleum products on the basis of the United States Gulf Coast price. Navy procurement officers attempted to negotiate a price on the basis of lower Aramco costs but were unable to get Aramco to agree. Finally, on September 15, 1945, at a time when petroleum products were in critically short supply, a contract was entered into with Aramco to purchase motor fuel, Navy fuel oil and Diesel oil at the minimum US. Gulf Coast prices for products of similar grades in tanker lots. Prior to this date, other American companies had sold to the Navy at lower prices on a negotiated basis.

The pricing arrangements entered into between the companies operating in the Middle East removed any competitive effort. These privately negotiated purchases by the Navy resulted in the exaction of high prices without any relationship whatever to the low cost of producing oil in the Middle East area. While the United States was being charged $1.05 per barrel, sales were being made by, Aramco to both affiliated companies and to the Japanese at 70¢ and 84¢ per barrel. The Special Senate Committee Investigating the National Defense Program, in its report entitled Navy Purchases of Middle East Oil (1948), found that, between January 1942 and June 1947, the subsidiaries of Standard Oil Company of California and The Texas Company sold $70,000,000 worth of petroleum products to the United States Navy, which total price was about 38 1/2 million dollars higher than prices charged to other purchasers.

The Federal Trade Commission has collected information to show that, while these prices were being charged to the Navy, the Standard Oil Company of California was making a net profit of 84¢ to 95¢ a barrel on its share of oil produced in the Middle East and was able to do so because of the aforementioned series of agreements which eliminated any threat of competition from any company in the world.

Again in February and May 1950, when all the above arrangements were in full effect, the United States Navy requested bids from five subsidiaries of the American companies. In response to this invitation for bids, identical prices were quoted. The pricing arrangements entered into between the companies operating in the Middle East prevented these companies from competing with one another even for Government business.

Following Pearl Harbor the Petroleum Administrator for War set up the Foreign Operations Committee to work out oil supply arrangements for foreign areas not controlled by the enemy and for meeting the requirements of United Nations armed forces. Such committee consisted of 14 members, 12 representing American companies and two British nominees representing Shell and Anglo-Iranian. Eighteen sub-committees were appointed. The same individuals whom the record shows to have been most active in carrying out the "DMOP" arrangements were members of these committees. Allocations of supplies were worked out on a percentage basis to the second decimal point and were identical in character with those found in the files of the companies for operations prior to Pearl Harbor.


Under the ECA program, large quantities of petroleum products have been purchased from the seven international companies which control and fix the world price of oil. The United States taxpayer pays for this through the funds appropriated for foreign military and economic aid. The 30th ECA report, covering the period April 1948 to November 1950, shows that procurement authorizations for petroleum and petroleum products amounted to $1,070,000,000, more than 11% of the total ECA commodity procurement authorizations. Of the total authorizations for petroleum, $384,000,000 represented purchases in the Middle East and $395,000,000 represented purchases in Latin America. It is interesting to note that approximately $724,000,000 of petroleum authorizations were destined to the countries in which Standard, Shell and Anglo-Iranian have maintained dominant positions. Mutual Security Administration, the successor to ECA, is seeking recovery of many millions of dollars from the American companies as "over charges" amounting to as much as 32 cents per barrel on crude oil.


The Federal Trade Commission, during its recent investigation, collected considerable evidence to sustain the conclusion that a great part, if not all, of the domestic effort to conserve petroleum through the "Conservation Commission" has been used to carry out the "conservation principle" of the "Achnacarry Agreement" as a support for maintaining high world prices for petroleum. It links Sir John Cadman, Sir Henri Deterding and the American Petroleum Institute to a program, beginning in December 1928 (three months after the "Achnacarry Agreement"), to raise the price of crude oil in the United States, not by a price-fixing agreement which would be illegal under the antitrust laws but by selling to the Federal as well as the State Governments the theory that to permit crude oil to be produced in unlimited amounts would result in unreasonably low prices and that this in turn would be a waste of this natural resource.

During 1928 and 1929, the American Petroleum Institute sponsored a conservation plan in the United States with the understanding that Deterding, Cadman and Standard would "cooperate" in the foreign fields. The effort of the cartel to set up private oil conservation plans in the United States suffered a setback when Attorney General Mitchell, in a letter to Secretary of Navy Wilbur, who was acting as chairman of the Federal Oil Conservation Board, rules (sic) that neither the Federal Oil Conservation Board nor any Government officials had "authority to approve any action which is contrary to an Act of Congress or to the antitrust laws of any State."

The American Petroleum Institute immediately began lobbying among the legislatures of the oil producing States for a State conservation and proration law. By 1935 a great number of States had adopted such laws. Then followed the passage of the "Connolly Hot Oil Law" supporting the State conservation laws, and finally the Congressional approval of the Interstate Oil Compact. Since practically all the States have rules that selling oil at a low price is economic waste is a violation of State laws, the conservation program has become merely a price-fixing mechanism.


Meanwhile, the world oil cartel has been using as its base price the quotation of Platt's Oilgram for the sale, on the American Gulf Coast, of a barrel of oil produced under conservation programs in the four adjacent States. Without a conservation program, the price of American oil would have been reduced to a truly competitive level. Since the cost of production outside of the United States is far below that within the United States, the adoption of the Gulf Coast price for crude oil has netted the parties to the conspiracy hundreds of millions of dollars profit on oil produced at low cost in foreign countries and sold in world trade at an inflexible price based on the high American Gulf Coast price.


When the Iranian Government cancelled the concession contract of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in June 1951, the oil companies immedi. ately took the position that, in order to carry out the defense efforts of this country, it was necessary to grant the American companies immunity from prosecution under the antitrust laws in order to relieve the "tremendous world shortage" which resulted from the cessation of production in Iran. In 1950, when world production amounted to 9.5 million barrels a day, Iran was producing roughly 7% of such production.

In June 1951, the Petroleum Administration for Defense sponsored a voluntary agreement to receive antitrust immunity under Sec. 708 of the Defense Production Act for overseas operations by the oil companies, permitting the allocation of markets, the use of agreed upon supply schedules for the world outside of the United States, the regulation of production of world oil in all foreign countries, the regulation of imports and exports in the United States by agreement among the companies and any other mechanism which the world oil companies determined was necessary to offset the effect of the loss of Iranian production.

While it is true that certain international oil companies receive immunity from prosecution under the antitrust laws for activities which are approved under the voluntary agreement, such immunity does not extend to any past actions under the cartel arrangement and only to those future cartel actions which may be identical with activities receiving antitrust approval.

The Department of State takes the position that it will not interfere in any way with enforcement of the antitrust laws, but that institution of proceedings may have the effect of impairing the foreign-policy aims of that Department in the Middle East, since it may encourage groups urging nationalization and renegotiation of concession agreements.


In view of the foregoing, there are reasonable grounds to believe that one American oil company (Standard Oil (New Jersey)) and its foreign subsidiaries joined with two foreign oil companies (Shell and Anglo-Iranian) in 1928 to establish a world cartel in oil; that shortly thereafter four competing American oil companies (Socony, Gulf, Standard of California and Texas) joined the cartel; that several more American companies, doing a foreign business, have shared in the cartel operations over the past 20 years; and that logical extension and continuance of the basic agreement have resulted in (1) control of all major oil producing areas in the world; (2) control of all refining operations in the world; (3) control of all patents, know-how and technology covering refining processes; (4) division of world markets; (5) maintenance of non-competitive prices for oil and its products throughout the world; and (6) control of oil transportation by pipeline and tanker.

It is recommended that a grand jury be convened in the Southern District of New York to inquire into the foregoing facts, and, if these facts are established and the grand jury so directs, that a criminal indictment be returned against the American oil companies and either the foreign companies or their subsidiaries found in the United States; and that a civil suit be filed contemporaneously do dissolve the cartel, to dissipate the allocation and price-fixing arrangements as illegal, and to enjoin any possible future agreements, arrangements or action designed to recreate or to result in any activities eliminating competition in the petroleum industry.

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