Wednesday PM July 28th, 2010

It's been 100 days since an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and setting off the worst oil spill in U.S. history. In nearly two weeks since a temporary cap stopped BP's gusher, not much oil has been showing up on the surface. But scientists caution that doesn't mean the crude is gone. There's still a lot of it in the Gulf, though no one is sure quite how much or exactly where it is. Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says government and independent scientists have been working hard to figure out where the oil might be. But they don't yet have numbers. Some is still washing up on beaches and in coastal wetlands, but not in the quantities it was a few weeks ago. Scientists do know that more than 600 miles of coastline has been oiled since the explosion of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.

A University of Georgia oceanographer says a research team will return to the Gulf next month to map underwater plumes of oil and gas. A team led by oceanographer Samantha Joye tracked one plume during research voyages in May and June. She says that no one has made a systematic sweep around the massive oil spill in the Gulf to find other plumes. A report released Friday confirms the existence of oil plumes. Joye says plumes of methane and other gases could be as big a threat to deep-sea life as oil. Joye says it's been about two months since anyone measured underwater oxygen in the area. Joye and other researchers plan to spend about four weeks looking for more oil and gas drifting from the well.

BP says it has paid $256 million--including $30 million over the past week--for lost income or business profit resulting from the Gulf oil spill. The company says it will start sending at least another $60 million in advance money to cover August by the end of the week. The company says fishermen have received $39 million, shrimpers have received $23 million and oyster harvesters have been paid $8 million. Charter boat owners have received $6 million. Another $117 million has gone to workers and businesses in a variety of fields, including deck hands and seafood processing workers. BP says it has received 133,000 claims and has issued about 83,000 checks.

BP officials say they are beginning to reinvent a company that reported a record $17 billion quarterly loss and is navigating the politically fraught task of making the Gulf of Mexico new. The company named its first American CEO during its quarterly earnings call. Robert Dudley, who will replace Tony Hayward on October 1st, promised changes in light of the environmental disaster. One certain change is that BP will become smaller. It announced it will sell $30 billion in assets and has set aside $32.2 billion to cover costs from the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.


Officials were warning residents to stay inside after an explosion this morning on an energy pipeline near Sealy, according to the Austin County Sheriff's Office. No injuries were reported. Officials say flow to the pipeline has been stopped and nothing appears to be leaking from it. They were monitoring air quality in the area and are still trying to determine the cause of the explosion. Sheriff's officials also say residents should avoid creating sparks in the area. They are asking residents to avoid turning on their air conditioners or opening windows. The Houston Chronicle reports that most roads closed after the explosion have reopened, but the streets nearest the site remain closed. Sealy is about 50 miles west of Houston.


Southern Michigan is learning that devastating oil spills aren't limited to the Gulf Coast. Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge's affiliate Enbridge Energy Partners of Houston owns the pipeline. Its chief executive says “we're going to clean it up.” Crews are working to clean up an estimated 877,000 gallons of oil that coated birds and fish as it poured from a pipeline leak into the Kalamazoo River. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm toured the area by helicopter last night and said more resources are needed. The river eventually flows into Lake Michigan, but officials don't believe oil will seep that far. The pipeline carries about eight million gallons of oil daily from Griffith, Indiana, to Sarnia, Ontario.

 


The unemployment rate in about three-quarters of the nation's largest metro areas rose last month as seasonal factors boosted joblessness nationwide. The Labor Department says the unemployment rate rose in 291 of 374 areas in June from May. It fell in 55 areas and was flat in 28. Unlike other employment data, the figures aren't adjusted to account for seasonal trends, such as college and high school students beginning job searches in the summer or retail clerks let go after the winter holiday shopping season. So the figures tend to be volatile from month to month. Before June, joblessness fell in most metro areas for three straight months. Some of the areas with the biggest increases in their unemployment rates are: Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Champaign-Urbana, Illinois; and Alexandria, Louisiana.


Applications for home loans fell last week despite the lowest mortgage rates in decades. The Mortgage Bankers Association says overall applications fell 4.4 percent from a week earlier. Applications to refinance home loans dropped 5.9 percent. Those taken out to purchase homes rose two percent. Mortgage rates have been at or near record lows since mid-April. Concerns about European debt problems have prompted investors to buy U.S. Treasury bonds. That has lowered the yield on Treasurys. Mortgage rates tend to track that yield. The average rate for a 30-year fixed loan rose to 4.69 percent last week from 4.59 percent a week earlier, according to the trade group's report. The rate for a 15-year fixed loan rose to 4.12 percent from 4.05 percent a week earlier.


Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods fell broadly in June as the fragile recovery continued to slow. The Commerce Department says demand for durable goods dropped one percent in June. It’s the second straight monthly decline and the largest drop since August 2009. Orders for commercial aircraft were down by more than a quarter. Without the volatile transportation sector, orders fell by 0.6 percent. The decline hit most major industries, including machinery, primary metals and electronics. Motor vehicles, electrical equipment and appliances were among the few bright spots. Consumers and businesses are reining in spending as the economy sputters. High unemployment and Europe's economic instability weighed on them in June.


Senator Jon Tester says the lawmakers who oversee the budget of the post office will block a proposal to reduce mail deliveries to five days a week. The Montana Democrat said eliminating Saturday deliveries would be a hardship on people living in rural areas without producing major savings for the Postal Service. The post office has proposed the change as one of several steps to reduce its expected $7 billion loss this year. The agency also wants to raise rates starting in January, to close or consolidate offices and to avoid annual prepayments for future retiree health care costs.


The problem of what to watch on a 3-D TV will be yours to solve with Panasonic's camcorder for families to film birthdays, baby's first walk and weddings, all in 3-D. The whole camcorder and lens setup starts at about $2,000--far more affordable than professional 3-D camcorders, which have been the only types available up to now for 3-D filming. The camera looks much like a regular digital camcorder but needs a slightly bigger 3-D “conversion” lens that's sold separately. The 3-D camcorders will reportedly go on sale in Japan August 20th, and will be available in overseas markets later this year.


ConocoPhillips says its second-quarter income more than doubled as oil prices increased and refining margins jumped. The Houston oil company reports earnings of $4.16 billion for the second quarter. That compares with $982 million in the same part of 2009. The company also announced the sale of a 7.6 percent stake in Lukoil, Russia's largest private oil company, for $3.44 billion and plans to sell the rest of its Lukoil holdings by the end of next year.


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