(Updates to reflect that four courts have suspended price
hikes, adds Petrobras statement)
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Courts in four Brazilian
states have suspended a 50% hike in natural gas prices planned
by state-run oil company Petrobras, likely kicking off an
intense legal battle between the firm, the distributors that buy
its fuel and various political authorities.
In a note on Tuesday night, the company, formally Petroleo
Brasileiro SA, said courts in four states had issued
injunctions at the request of natural gas distributors, while a
fifth injunction request had been denied.
The company did not identify the states where the
injunctions were granted, but Rio de Janeiro's state legislature
said on Twitter that a judge there had halted the price hike.
National newspaper O Globo identified the other three states as
Sergipe, Ceara and Alagoas, all in the country's northeast.
The decisions are the latest headache for Petrobras, which
has pledged to keep fuel prices roughly in line with
international levels. That policy helped the company post bumper
profits this year, but upset many consumers and politicians at
every level of government.
The injunctions apply to liquefied petroleum gas, vehicular
natural gas and gas commonly used for industrial purposes, but
they are not relevant for other fuels such as gasoline and
diesel. The Rio injunction - likely the most relevant
economically - will be in place until Brazil's antitrust
regulator, Cade, issues an opinion on the matter.
Petrobras said in its note that it will appeal the
The company said nearly half of the natural gas it will sell
in 2022 will be sold via long-term contracts, the terms of which
are being respected. Some clients, however, have opted for
short-term contracts. Petrobras imports natural gas from Bolivia
and prices have risen "nearly 500%" in 2021, the company added.
(Reporting by Ricardo Brito in Brasilia and Gram Slattery in
Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Brad Haynes, Dan Grebler and Richard