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North Carolina's lawsuit against Exxon may be settled out of court this month, ending just one of many investigations into possible abuses in the oil and gas industry, officials said Thursday.

``Both parties expect not to have to fight it out in court,' said Kip Sturgis, assistant attorney general. ``Everything is on the table. At this point, I believe there is a good faith effort to work this out.'Sturgis declined to give any details about the negotiations.

An Exxon spokesman in Houston declined to confirm or deny that negotiations are in progress. But John Allred, a Charlotte attorney representing Exxon in the suit, confirmed that the two sides have been trying to resolve the matter.

``It was just an inadvertence,' Allred said of the alleged incidents.

Allred said he did not foresee anything hindering the two sides from reaching an agreement before the scheduled court date of Oct. 8.

The state filed its suit Aug. 10, charging Exxon with imposing retroactive price increases to distributors and not honoring its posted prices. The alleged incidents occurred Aug. 3, one day after Iraq invaded its oil-rich neighbor Kuwait.

Exxon announced several days after the suit was filed that it would honor its lower prices and pay restitution to the distributors who were charged a higher amount.

``It was very encouraging to us,' Sturgis said. ``It encouraged us that we could settle the matter.'

Sturgis said the investigation of the whole industry began after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1988.

Sturgis said that incident resulted in a ``negligible supply interruption' and brought about immediate gas price increases. And, he said, that happened again after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

``It strikes us that there's no good reason that the price of gasoline that's in someone's inventory should immediately go up,' he said.

The investigation has since expanded to all major oil companies, distributors and retailers, as well as into the propane and heating oil industry.

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