Irving Oil seeks end to EUB hearing over price hikes

The Energy and Utilities Board will rule on Wednesday on whether to halt a hearing into Irving Oil Ltd's application for increased gasoline, diesel and heating oil prices.

Energy and Utilities Board will rule today on Irving Oil's request to halt the hearing

The Energy and Utilities Board will rule on Wednesday on whether to suspend a hearing into Irving Oil Ltd.’s application for increased gasoline, diesel and heating oil prices.

Irving Oil applied for increases ranging between 22 per cent and 25 per cent in the wholesale margins it can charge retailers and ultimately the public for gasoline, diesel and heating oil last June.

But on Monday, Irving Oil made a move to suspend a hearing into the application, apparently after reaching a settlement with the chief opponent of the increase, Rene Basque, the public intervener.

"The New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board has received correspondence from IOL [Irving Oil Ltd.] advising that a possible settlement has been reached in connection with the above-noted matter," said Ellen Desmond, an EUB lawyer, in a letter that went out to all parties registered to participate in the hearing on Monday.

"On Wednesday ... the board will hear submissions from the parties as to the procedure to be used in considering the appropriateness of this settlement proposal."

Desmond said all parties must agree to suspend the hearing, but most of those are other petroleum wholesalers who stand to benefit from any increase Irving Oil can secure.

Irving Oil says the wholesale margins, currently six cents per litre for gasoline and diesel and five cents for heating oil haven't budged since the adoption of petroleum price regulation in 2006 and have been heavily eroded by inflation.

If successful the application would have boosted pump prices about 1.5 cents per litre and raised about $20 million a year for Irving Oil and other petroleum wholesalers in New Brunswick. 

Basque, who was appointed by the provincial government, had been opposing several elements of the application including the fact that about one quarter of the increase being applied for was to offset future inflation that even Irving acknowledged hadn't occurred yet. 

He also suggested Irving Oil had wrongly tried to charge some refinery expenses it incurred because of new federal ethanol regulations to its wholesale costs even though the province previously adjusted retail prices to account for the addition of ethanol.

Irving Oil recently complained that the company was going to have to pay the costs for Basque in the regulatory hearing. Basque expected to bill about $125,000 to oppose Irving Oil’s application.

Len Hoyt, a lawyer for Irving Oil, told the board in November it was "an absurd and unduly onerous obligation" on the company to finance both its own case in favour of petroleum price increases and Basque's case against it.