Exxon Corp., which is seeking to recover from its partners in a Texas oil field a portion of the $2.1 billion it has paid the government for federal price control overcharges, has sued Texaco Inc. for $123.6 million.
Texaco, one of 300 companies and 2,000 royalty owners that have an interest in the east Texas Hawkins Field with Exxon, said it would defend its position vigorously. "We are familiar with the allegations and feel we have a very strong case," said Phil Blackburn, a Texaco spokesman.
The case against Texaco, filed Wednesday in federal court in Houston, is one of four Exxon has filed recently against major oil companies, totaling about $156 million.
In a lower court ruling that the Supreme Court let stand last year, Exxon was found to have overcharged customers by improperly classifying the oil it was removing from the Hawkins field between 1975 and 1981, a period when federal price control regulations were in place.
Exxon never admitted blame in the case, which was opened by the Energy Department nine years ago, and it continues to maintain that the regulations were unclear. Exxon owns about two-thirds of the field, which produces about 25,000 barrels of oil a day, and acts as unit operator for the other producers.
Texaco has a 6 percent stake in the field, Blackburn said.
If Exxon wins its case it would likely become a creditor of Texaco, which filed for bankruptcy April 12 after failing to reach a settlement with Pennzoil Co. in a dispute over Getty Oil.
Exxon said it is trying to recover about a third of what it was ordered to pay by the government. The actual overcharge was found to be $895.5 million and came to $2.1 billion with charges for interest.
Exxon added that it has succeeded in reaching settlements with more than 700 of its partners for amounts it would not disclose.
"The government directed us to make payment on behalf of all the owners," said Les Rogers, an Exxon spokesman. "We said all along we would have to come back and collect your share. This is no surprise."
Both Exxon and Texaco said there had been negotiations between the two companies before the suit was filed.
The refund that Exxon paid the government in February 1986 is the largest that has been paid under the 1973 law that created a system of price controls on domestic oil after the Arab oil embargo caused prices to skyrocket.
A large portion of the $6 billion that the government has collected so far in oil price overcharges has been distributed to the states for use in energy conservation programs.
Overall, the Energy Department estimates that about $8.2 billion was improperly charged by companies during the time of the price control regulations, which were removed in 1981.