Monday August 1st, 2005

Energy analysts watch as new Saudi Arabian king takes throne...Installation of wrong type of pipe blamed for last week's explosion and fire at BP Texas City refinery...Globeleq buys power generation assets in South Asia from El Paso Corporation...

The man who had served as Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince is now its king. King Abdullah became the ruler today upon the death of his half brother, King Fahd. Fahd was 84. Abdullah is 81 and essentially had been the kingdom's leader since 1995, when Fahd was sidelined by a stroke. University of Houston Professor Michael Economides writes about energy in World Energy Monthly Review.

Professor Michael Economides audio 1

The new king faces problems including liberalizing an ailing economy, dealing with pressure for greater freedom and democracy and battling religious extremism. Crude prices soared past $62 per barrel in early trading on word that Saudi Arabia's King Fahd died this morning. Many analysts say Fahd's death is unlikely to affect oil supply from Saudi Arabia and the impact of the news is expected to be temporary. Professor Economides says there are other factors affecting oil prices.

Professor Michael Economides audio 2

World Energy Monthly Review has already published several articles about the region.

Professor Michael Economides audio 3

What may be of a more lasting concern to energy markets is the possible impact on production after fires at two U. S. refineries last Thursday. BP says gasoline output at its Texas City plant was cut by 35,000 barrels a day.


photo courtesy of CSBBP says the installation of the wrong type of steel pipe contributed to last week's explosion and fire at its Texas City refinery. BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell says workers erroneously installed a section of carbon steel pipe in the refinery's resid hydrotreating unit this February. The pipe should have been made of chromium alloy steel. The U. S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigating Board says high-pressured gas was released when the pipe broke on Thursday. The reactor combines heavy crude oil with hydrogen as part of the conversion to lighter products. Chappell says investigators are trying to determine whether contractors or BP employees did the installation work. The company also plans to check the facility to make sure the proper piping was installed at similar units.


An energy bill has been signed into law today by Governor Rick Perry. The measure deals with sources such as wind, biomass and solar power--and cutting pollution. Backers say the law is meant to boost the amount of energy produced by renewable sources in Texas. The plan requires that about five percent of the state's energy come from renewable sources by 2015. The goal is ten percent by 2025.


Four projects that the Port of Houston Authority wants to see have been included in the Transportation Reauthorization Act that has passed out of Congress. The four projects in southeast Harris County include the straightening and widening of Port Road near State Highway 146, which officials hope will ease traffic congestion and improve cargo flow in and out of the port and improve roadways used by trucks and improve several railroad crossings. Metropolitan Transit Authority officials have requested $1 billion in federal matching funds over the next ten years to address Houston's long-term mobility needs. Some $10 million will benefit Houston's METRO bus system. The bill also includes $22.8 million for the Houston Large-Scale Freeway Landscaping Project.


Two Houston companies have agreed to disclose more information about their health care "discount cards.'' Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today announced the agreement with Family Health and Family Care/NAPP. Abbott in April sued both companies. He says the companies will disclose to consumers that their health plans are not insurance. Both companies must stop misrepresenting which health care providers accept their discount cards. Medicaid or Medicare recipients also must be told that they're only eligible for certain benefits associated with the cards. Customers must be informed in advance that a deposit may be required before some services and that card enrollment fees are not refundable. The judgment orders the companies to set aside $175,000 for restitution to people who file a written complaint within six months.


Emerging markets power firm Globeleq is buying power generation assets in South Asia from El Paso Corporation in a $109 million deal. The transaction includes several projects in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Globeleq currently owns over 900 megawatts of generating capacity in Asia. The Houston-based company is the only operator solely focuses on the emerging markets of Africa, the Americas and Asia.


Cheniere Energy's Sabine Pass LNG affiliate has filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to expand the capacity at its receiving terminal. Construction on the facility began in March, with start-up set for early 2008. Houston-based Cheniere says the terminal will add three additional storage tanks to the three already planned.


The asthma drug Xolair is closer to approval for the treatment of severe persistent allergic asthma by the European Commission. The drug has been recommended by the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use. The U. S. Food & Drug Administration approved Xolair in June 2003. Houston-based Tanox receives royalties on the sale of Xolair, which is produced by Novartis Pharma.


The National Rifle Association today announced plans to boycott Houston-based ConocoPhillips. The dispute involves the company's suit to block an Oklahoma law allowing employees to keep guns in their vehicles while parked in company parking lots. NRA executive Wayne LaPierre announced the boycott in Idabel, Oklahoma at a rally. The show of support was for employees fired by Weyerhauser in 2002 after guns were found in their cars and trucks in the employee parking lot. Weyerhaeuser says the weapons violated a new company policy, but the fired workers say they weren't told of the rule. LaPierre says ConocoPhillips filed a lawsuit challenging a law passed last year to prevent companies from firing employees because they have a gun inside their locked car or truck. The boycott targets Conoco and Phillips 66 gas stations.


The Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is launching a home buying guide in January specifically for Hispanic homebuyers, according to the Houston Business Journal. Post Oak Publishing is creating the biannual guide. Houston is home to over 1.7 million Hispanics, according to the Houston-based Gonzales Group, a strategic consulting firm to the real estate industry.


The Texas Supreme Court today refused to block a coroner's testimony in a Vioxx-related trial in Angleton. So jurors will be allowed to hear the pathologist's videotaped testimony that could damage the case of drug maker Merck. The civil trial involves the 2001 death of Texan Robert Ernst, who took the painkiller. In the deposition obtained by the Associated Press, Dr. Maria Araneta said she thought Ernst's death from arrhythmia was more than likely caused by a heart attack. Merck pulled Vioxx from the market in September after a study showed that it doubled the risk of heart attack if taken for 18 months of longer. Merck's defense relies on Araneta's autopsy report, which says Ernst died of an arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat--secondary to clogged arteries. Neither her report nor Ernst's death certificate identify a heart attack as the cause of death.


Jury selection began today in a San Diego, Texas lawsuit claiming Clayton Homes forged signatures that put up land as collateral. Tennessee-based Clayton Homes denies wrongdoing. Plaintiffs Attorney David Rumley says Clayton Homes has been unable to explain how a dead person could sign the documents. The plaintiffs are Vicente Saenz, Teodulo Saenz, Manuel Chapa, Wally Gonzalez and Imelda Gonzalez. The lawsuit claims agents of Clayton Homes forged the signatures of Vicente Saenz, Teodulo Saenz, Gloria Saenz Chapa and Agapita Saenz. The documents give the company the Saenz Ranch, should another family member default on the loan of a manufactured home on the property. The documents allegedly were signed in 2001. Gloria Saenz Chapa died in 1993 and Agapita Saenz, whose correct name was Agapita Sauceda, died in 1999.


Six years after the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport opened, the city of Austin will spend $5.5 million to replace and add escalators and elevators. The city of Austin Aviation Department, which runs the airport, says the changes are needed to accommodate the increase in passenger traffic. Critics blame poor planning and engineering. Workers will replace four existing commercial-grade escalators with industrial-grade escalators. The city will also add two escalators leading to the baggage claim area. In response to complaints that the elevators are too slow, the city will replace the existing elevators with faster ones and add two new elevators. The project should take 16 months to complete.


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