A chemical plant worker is dead, after an early morning explosion in Houston that left six others hurt. The body of the worker was found about seven hours after the blast at the Goodyear plant. Goodyear plant spokesman Scott Baughman says the southeast Houston plant was evacuated after the blast in a heat exchange unit released a small amount of ammonia. It’s used as a refrigerant. About 200 people were in the plant at the time. The six injured people were treated on-site by the plant’s medical team, and then taken to local hospitals for evaluation. Plant officials are investigating the cause of the explosion and trying to determine how much ammonia was spilled.
The Energy Department says motorists can expect gasoline prices to remain close to $4 a gallon through next year. Oil prices should remain well above $100 a barrel through 2009, says Guy Caruso, head of the department’s Energy Information Administration. Caruso told a House hearing in Washington that crude oil prices are likely to average $126 a barrel next year, $4 higher than this year. He said gasoline prices are expected to peak at $4.15 a gallon in August, but won’t go down much. The agency projects gasoline averaging $3.92 a gallon through 2009. Caruso said that oil prices are likely to stay high far into the future. He projected oil costing $107 a barrel in 2015.
Democrats and Republicans agree that speculation in the energy futures market appears to be having the greatest influence on prices. A House committee plans to look into that. A trade commission is also investigating, but lawmakers admit it may lack the tools it needs.
A Democrat-backed package of new energy laws, including a windfall profits tax on major oil companies, was voted down in the Senate. U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison voted against the Consumer-First Energy Act, calling it a “pathetic attempt to even call it an energy plan.”
“The American people are looking for leadership from the United States Congress. And what do they get in response? They get a bill that does not produce one ounce of energy. Not one ounce. It does three things: it enacts a windfall profits tax; it suggests that we sue OPEC; and it forms a commission to investigate price gouging.”
Hutchison says refineries need to be expanded and exploration and production needs to be expanded into areas that currently prohibit drilling. Republicans want to ease drilling restrictions in places like the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and federally-controlled waters off U.S. coasts.
American Airlines has raised its fuel surcharge by $20 per round trip on many routes. The increase comes just days after the Fort Worth-based airline failed in another attempt to raise fares. American spokesman Tim Wagner says the surcharge applies to domestic routes except those where the carrier competes with low-fare airlines. Airlines are facing record prices for jet fuel, which has nearly doubled in price in the past year. They’ve tried about 19 fare increases this year, but many like last week’s failed because some carriers declined to match them. Airlines are also raising other fees. Next week, American will begin charging $15 for passengers to check a single bag.
The widow of Enron founder Ken Lay and her neighbors in an upscale Houston high-rise have settled a lawsuit that accused her of not paying more than $109,000 in building dues at the Huntingdon. Both sides say she’s paid all of her delinquent dues to the Huntingdon Council of Co-Owners. The Houston Chronicle/EM> reports Lay’s assessment was based on ownership of nearly three percent of the 34-story building. Besides an almost 19,000-square-foot condo on the 33rd floor worth more than $4 million, she owns ten parking spaces and four storage units. Linda Lay is also fighting an attempt by the federal government to seize nearly $13 million from her husband’s estate, including the Huntingdon condo. Ken Lay was convicted in may 2006 of 10 counts of fraud, conspiracy and lying to banks in two separate cases. But his convictions were vacated after his July 2006 death from heart disease. Enron collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001 after years of accounting tricks to hide billions in debt.
Valero refining-Texas has agreed to pay a $1.65 million civil penalty stemming from a 2006 oil spill into the Corpus Christi ship channel. The agreement was announced by the Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. The company agreed to the penalty and an additional $300,000 environmental project as part of a consent decree to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. The June 1st, 2006 accident involved about 3,400 barrels–or nearly 143,000 gallons–of oil that leaked into the ship channel. Valero has removed a containment berm and an above-ground storage tank from the edge of the ship channel.
The Houston Grand Opera Association says it plans to use a $5 million grant to bring affordable performances to new audiences next season. The money comes from the Houston Endowment. A 52 percent increase in subscription sales has helped the company accomplish its ticket sales target for the first time in five years. The Houston Grand Opera started in 1955 and has commissioned 39 world premiers and six American opens since 1973.