Tuesday June 28th, 2005

CSB investigators say instrument malfunctions contributed to Texas City refinery explosion...Shareholders approve unification of parent companies of Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies...Supreme Court to consider whether to dismiss lawsuit accusing Chevron and Shell Oil of improperly inflating gas prices in late 1990's.

Investigators from the U. S. Chemical Safety Board have found evidence that key pieces of process instrumentation malfunctioned at the time of the explosions on March 23rd that killed 15 contract workers and injured 170 others. CSB lead investigator Don Holmstrom says alarms that should have warned operators of abnormal conditions in the isomerization unit did not go off.

Don Holmstrom audio 1

Holmstrom says BP has continued to be cooperative and has furnished documents on a voluntary basis.

Don Holmstrom audio 2

BP's Ronnie Chappell says there's nothing in the CSB findings that the company hasn't already seen.

Ronnie Chappell audio 1

Chappell says as for the workers who have been dismissed for not following procedure...

Ronnie Chappell audio 2

In a press conference on May 17th, BP officials called worker error a root cause of the accident.

Treasury Secretary John Snow says there's no short-term solution for high gas prices. Snow says the government can't do much to offer relief from the record-high oil prices. But he predicts the market will adapt and he offers nuclear power as an alternative. Snow made the comments while speaking at the Nasdaq Technology Center in Trumbull, Connecticut. Snow said the high oil prices already are affecting demand--causing consumers to buy smaller vehicles. He thinks the high prices will prompt consumers to cut back on travel and will encourage producers of alternative energy.

Senate Republicans and Democrats have overwhelmingly approved new energy legislation--but the measure they've passed is facing an uncertain future. By a vote of 85 to 12, the Senate approved a plan that calls for $18 billion in energy tax breaks. It also includes expanded use of ethanol and measures designed to increase natural gas imports. However, it differs sharply from house legislation passed in April on oil production and conservation efforts. The Senate's version skirts some of the most contentious energy issues facing Congress, such as drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A preliminary analysis indicates the Senate's plan would cost about twice as much as the House version--and significantly more than what the White House wanted. There is little expectation that any energy legislation could provide short-term relief from rising oil prices.

Shareholders have approved the unification of the parent companies of the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies, ending a dual corporate structure at the Anglo-Dutch company. The parent companies will be merged to form the supervisory board of Royal Dutch Shell, based in London but with physical headquarters and tax home in The Hague, Netherlands. The stock is scheduled to trade on international exchanges under the new name beginning July 20th.

The U. S. Supreme Court says it will consider whether to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Chevron and Shell Oil of improperly inflating gas prices in the late 1990's. A class-action lawsuit by 23,000 gas station owners alleges Shell and Texaco set up to joint ventures in 1998 to illegally fix gas prices. The ventures--Motiva Enterprises and Equilon Enterprises--operated from 1998 to 2001, when Texaco sold its stake to win approval of its purchase by Chevron. But Texaco and Shell continued to maintain separate brand names during that time.

Democrats say nearly $1.5 billion worth of Halliburton's bills to the U. S. military have been challenged, according to the Houston Chronicle. House and Senate Democrats on Monday pointed to Pentagon audits criticizing the Houston-based company for inflating costs, billing for unnecessary equipment and submitting millions of dollars in duplicate costs on two contracts valued at more than $11 billion.

Three cranes worth about $500,000 owned by United Crane of Houston have been seized by the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. The office says the company on Kelley Street owes nearly $650,000 in taxes to the Harris County, city of Houston and the Houston Independent School District, as well as the Hays County School District and the city of Kyle, near San Marcos. The equipment will be auctioned off to help pay the tax debt.

The Port of Houston Authority commission has approved more contract awards, bids and proposals for the Bayport Container and Cruise Terminal. A nearly $17.9 million contract was approved for 12 diesel electric container yard cranes for the terminal from KCI Special Cranes Corporation. The commission authorized advertising for competitive sealed proposals for other terminal container handling equipment.

Fifteen Chinese airport executives and employees spent a week here learning how Houston airports operate and getting familiar with federal agencies and airlines. The Civil Aviation Management Institute of China is one of eight groups visiting Houston for instruction. China is restructuring its airport system, allowing local governments to take over operations at their airports while the national Civil Aviation Administration of China oversees training.

Continental Airlines is beginning new weekly overnight non-stop service between George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the Caribbean island of Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles beginning December 16th. Bonaire, which is 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, is a top diving destination in the region. Bonaire is Continental's 19th Caribbean destination and its 68th in Latin America.

Continental says it is the only major U. S. carrier to offer a full array of complimentary amenities to customers traveling in economy on domestic flights, including meals, entertainment, non-alcoholic beverages, pillows, blankets, magazines and curbside check-in. The Houston-based air carrier says the company has chosen to retain services that customers value, even as competitors continue to cut or charge for economy-class amenities.

Southwest Airlines says it'll start selling seats on ATA Airlines connecting flights through Las Vegas on August 4th. The flights out of Las Vegas McCarran Airport will connect to such places as Honolulu, Seattle and West Palm Beach, Florida. Under the code-sharing deal announced today, Southwest and ATA will exchange passengers and luggage at McCarran--all on the same ticket. The move by Dallas-based Southwest expands a code-sharing partnership with ATA that started in February with connecting service in Chicago. That service was expanded to include connections in Phoenix. Southwest estimates that it will get $50 million in added revenue this year from selling tickets on Indianapolis-based ATA.

American Pad & Paper plans to lay off nearly half of its work force at its plant in Hamblen County, Tennessee. Richardson-based Ampad says the layoffs start this week. Ampad filed a notice with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development that it will lay off 101 of its 250 employees between July 1st and October 21st. Ampad makes envelopes, writing pads and other office supplies. The company in January announced it was closing its plant in Holyoke, Massachuseets. Ampad earlier this month said it was cutting 125 jobs at another plant in Illinois.

Verizon Wireless has added more than 100 cell sites to its wireless broadband network in the Houston area to improve service in Texas City, Sugar Land, Conroe and The Woodlands. The company says the expansion provides access to its multimedia service, as well as to its wide-area wireless Internet access service. Verizon has added Beaumont to the cities it will serve with broadband access.

Houston-based Polytex Fibers has received the U. S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Small Business Award. Polytex manufactures recyclable tubular woven polypropylene bags for shipment of bulk grain donations to foreign countries under the Export Humanitarian Food Assistance Programs.

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