(Adds sources, Commission, company comments)
By Philip Blenkinsop and Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Dec 7 (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators have dropped Shell, BP, and Statoil from an investigation into suspected rigging of ethanol benchmarks, focusing instead on three producers of the biofuel.
The European Commission said on Monday it had opened a formal antitrust investigation into the actions of Spanish company Abengoa SA, Belgium's Alcogroup SA and Lantmännen ek för of Sweden.
In April, EU antitrust regulators raided several bioenthanol companies and at the same time stepped up a two-year investigation into biofuel price benchmarks. In 2013, it searched the offices of BP, Shell and Statoil too.
BP, Shell, Statoil and price reporting agency Platts have been told they are not part of the investigation opened on Monday, two sources familiar with the matter said.
"The Commission's investigation focuses on behaviours in price benchmarks for the ethanol sector," the EU competition authority said in response to an email asking if crude oil and refined products were still being assessed.
"The Commission is currently not investigating further behaviours in price benchmarks for the crude oil sector."
BP was not immediately available for comment, Shell declined to comment, and a spokeswoman for Norwegian state producer Statoil said there were no formal charges or accusations against the company.
The Commission said it was concerned that Abengoa, Alcogroup and Lantmännen ek för may have colluded to manipulate ethanol benchmarks published by Platts.
It said this could include agreeing to submit or support bids to hike the benchmark and so drive up ethanol prices, leading to less use of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels, with negative consequences for consumers and the environment.
Platts said it had not been charged with any wrongdoing and was not an addressee of the European Commission's statement of objections in relation to the bioethanol pricing investigation.
Alcogroup said: "Alcodis and Alcogroup operate their activities in accordance with European law and therefore fully cooperate with the European Commission whilst ensuring their fundamental rights to be respected."
Lantmännen said it "cooperates fully with the authority". Abengoa was not immediately available for comment.
In a separate case, the Commission is also investigating several bioethanol producers on suspicion of taking part in a cartel following searches of offices. The sources said the oil majors are not involved in this case either.
Ethanol is made from biomass such as wheat, maize or sugar beet that is mainly added to gasoline and used as a biofuel for certain motor vehicles. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Addtional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov in London and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Editing by Susan Thomas)
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