Friday July 29th, 2005

Chemical Safety & Hazard investigators back at BP Texas City refinery to probe latest blast...Gasoline prices at Texas pumps falling...Houston Community College offers seminars on doing business with Mexico...

A federal agency has sent a pair of investigators to look into the latest explosion and fire at the BP Texas City refinery. The blast shook nearby homes yesterday evening at the same BP plant where 15 people were killed and more than 170 hurt during a March 23rd explosion. The fire was extinguished by about 2:30 this morning, and officials say no injuries were reported. The U. S. Chemical Safety & Hazard investigation board is still investigating the deadly March explosion. Officials today monitored the air along the facility's perimeter and found no harmful substances. The unit that exploded was used to remove sulfur from heavy crude oil. Other than the impacted unit, the refinery continues to operate.

The leadership of the United Steelworkers say the explosions at BP's facility raises doubts about the company's commitment to taking the steps necessary to make the refinery safer. Leo Gerard and USW Region 6 Director Gary Beevers say they are frustrated at what they call BP's legal foot dragging on the issue of confidentiality of information. The union has been urging BP to release information it says is crucial for educating its members and the public about safety concerns.


Gasoline prices at Texas pumps fell statewide this week. The weekly AAA Texas gas price survey released today finds the price of regular unleaded self-serve in Texas averaged $2.20 a gallon. That's down three cents from last week's record level by 40 cents above last year's average. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the lower pump prices come as crude oil prices fell from a record $62 a barrel to $59. But she says not to look for gas prices to fall to $2 a gallon or less unless crude prices fall closer to $50 a barrel. Houston's prices dropped two cents to just over $2.20 a gallon. The cheapest prices remain in the Corpus Christi area, where they averaged almost $2.10 a gallon--down almost seven cents from last week. The costliest pump prices continue to be in the Dallas area, where they average $2.24 per gallon--down almost three cents from last week. The Dallas price is only fractionally higher than the average in nearby Fort Worth. The national average fell almost two cents to $2.29 per gallon.


Reliant Energy has agreed to settle all shareholder class action lawsuits about alleged violations of securities laws concerning trading activities between 1999 to 2001. The settlement provides a $68 million payment by Reliant. About $61.5 million is covered by Reliant's director and officer insurance policies. Deloitte & Touche--also a defendant in the litigation--has agreed to make a payment of $7 million, bringing the settlement to $75 million. Reliant is not admitting any liability, and notes there have been no findings of any violations of federal securities laws.


Houston Community College is offering eight 12-hour seminars this summer on issues involved in doing business with Mexico. HCC Vice Chancellor for Economic Development Jose Villarreal says the courses are being taught in both English and Spanish.

Jose Villarreal audio 1

Villarreal says the program is designed to be continuing education or professional development.

Jose Villarreal audio 2

Villarreal says there's a strong economic corridor between Houston and Monterrey.

Jose Villarreal audio 3

Seminars in the series include "Doing Business in Mexico," "Mexican Business Management," "Importing and Exporting Operations in Latin America," "Developing a Marketing Plan for Latin America," and "Business Operations in Mexico."


O'Connor & Associates has filed a lawsuit in Harris County District Court, according to the Houston Business Journal, alleging the Harris County Appraisal District and Appraisal Review Board are failing to follow state law when hearing property tax protests. The private real estate services firm alleges that the boards unlawfully postpone property tax appraisal protest hearings and fail to adhere to the law in their reviews.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is citing TIBC & Rentals for 38 alleged safety violations from an incident on January 22nd when two workers died while a tractor-trailer tank was being cleaned in La Porte. OSHA proposes penalties of $61,200 for the rental transportation and storage company. A worker collapsed and died from inhaling carbon monoxide, according to OSHA, and a co-worker also died while trying to rescue him.


Petrohawk Energy and Mission Resources have received stockholder approval to complete their merger. Petrohawk Energy is an independent energy company with properties in south and east Texas, as well as the Gulf Coast and other regions.


Lawyers for the makers of Vioxx asked a Texas appeals court today to block testimony from a pathologist in the first trial of a Vioxx-related wrongful-death suit. The attorneys for Merck want to block Dr. Maria Arneta from testifying to the jury on the 2001 death of Robert Ernst. The man's widow is the plaintiff in the lawsuit. Arneta performed the autopsy on Ernst after his sudden death. It placed the cause of death as arrhythmia--or an irregular heartbeat. But Arneta's testified in a deposition that she thought Ernst's irregular heartbeat was likely brought on by a heart attack. State District Judge Ben Hardin in Angleton ruled yesterday that jurors could hear testimony from the pathologist. Vioxx was pulled from the market in September after studies showed that it doubled the risk of heart attacks if taken for 18 months of longer. Merck's defense in this case is that Ernst died of arrhythmia, which Vioxx hasn't been shown to cause. Ernst had taken Vioxx for eight months before his death.


Trash hauler Waste Management says it'll repatriate about $485 million in earnings from its Canadian units this year. The Houston-based hauler tells the federal regulators that it'll take advantage of a tax break. Under the special one-year program created last year by the American Jobs Creation Act, U. S. companies can bring back money they've earned and invested abroad. In doing so, it need pay a 5.25-percent tax, compared with the standard 35 percent corporate rate. Waste Management says the decision to repatriate the foreign earnings affects roughly $115 million held by Canadian units.


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