Wednesday September 14th, 2005

Strategic Petroleum Reserve releases more crude oil...Labor Department to provide job training grants for Gulf region...More air carriers resuming flights to New Orleans...

The Energy Department has sold another 11 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. That's about a-third of what had been offered to the industry as part of the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. The oil was sold for a price ranging from $59 a barrel for sour crude to a range of $62.66 a barrel for sweet crude. President Bush opened the government's oil stockpile in the aftermath of Katrina because of concern about supply shortages. Thirty million barrels of crude are being offered over a 30-day period. The latest sales are in addition to 12.6 million barrels of oil the government has lent six Gulf Coast refineries.

The recovery effort along the Gulf Coast is getting more help to train workers. The Labor Department says it's providing $12 million in grants to Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. It'll be used to train workers for jobs critical to the economic recovery of the Gulf region. Each state will get funds for training programs in construction, energy, health care, transportation and the safety-security sector. They'll include both short-term training for a quick return to employment, as well community college career programs leading to industry-recognized credentials, certifications, licenses and degrees. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao says she expects thousands of new jobs will be created to help in the recovery and rebuilding of communities along the Gulf.

Energy Secretary Sam Bodman says gasoline and diesel pipelines that pass through hurricane-hit Mississippi and New Orleans are critical to the nation. Bodman, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta yesterday toured Colonial Pipeline and Plantation Pipeline in Collins, Mississippi. The members of the Bush cabinet were on hand to discuss the importance of fuel operations. Hurricane Katrina disrupted the flow of fuel. Compton says the power line rights of way serving pipelines should be widened and improved to withstand future storms. Colonial Pipeline carries fuel from Texas to the New York Harbor. Plantation Pipeline carries fuel from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Washington DC.

More carriers plan to resume flights to hurricane-battered New Orleans. Houston-based Continental Airlines will resume flights on Monday at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines says it will resume service early next week--on a date to be determined. Fort Worth-based American Airlines still plans to resume service November 1st, but that could be moved up. Continental will operate four daily round trips between New Orleans and Houston. Before Hurricane Katrina, Continental had operated about 15 daily round trips between New Orleans and three cities. Southwest will offer two daily round trips to Houston. Southwest was the busiest carrier in New Orleans, where limited commercial passenger service resumed this week. American has increased flights in and out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, since Katrina. Northwest Airlines flew the first commercial flight into New Orleans yesterday, and Delta Air Lines started today. Prior to Hurricane Katrina, 18 domestic and international airlines served the New Orleans Airport. Those commercial flights are being used mainly by rescue and relief workers.

A spokeswoman with Dallas-based Southwest today told the Associated Press that New Orleans employees will be given an opportunity to move where jobs are open. Those Southwest workers otherwise can return to the New Orleans Airport when operations resume.

The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau has been accommodating conventions in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. When Mayor Bill White announced on August 30th that the George R. Brown Convention Center would house evacuees, the GHCVB secured a new venue for La Cumbre, a major Latin America travel conference booked at the convention center. The conference was moved to Minute Maid Park. Even as the convention center hosts evacuees, the facility continues to be fully functional. Convention Bureau President Jordy Tollett says this "can-do" approach is being noticed around the nation.

Jordy Tollett audio

Normal business operations are expected to resume on Saturday in preparation for the Texas Association of School Administrators/Texas Association of School Board Annual Conference. A few conventions have been rescheduled or postponed, including the Turbomachinery Symposium and the U. S. Arab Economic Forum. The GHCVB says it is also doing what it can to take care of conventions originally scheduled to take place in New Orleans.

HCC Holdings expects Hurricane Katrina claims to reach $160 million. The Houston-based insurance company and specialty insurance group says the losses are from aviation, onshore and offshore energy, property, marine and other specialty lines of business. HCC says its exposure is predominantly to energy and large commercial property accounts, and is substantially protected by catastrophe reinsurance.

HCC Holdings expects Hurricane Katrina claims to reach $160 million. The Houston-based insurance company and specialty insurance group says the losses are from aviation, onshore and offshore energy, property, marine and other specialty lines of business. HCC says its exposure is predominantly to energy and large commercial property accounts, and is substantially protected by catastrophe reinsurance.

Cities and counties will get federal emergency funds for much of the cost of helping refugees of Hurricane Katrina. That includes transportation to new homes, emergency medical and dental care and prescription drug expenses. A weekend memo from the Federal Emergency Management Agency listed items eligible for reimbursement to local governments. An estimated 205,000 evacuees are staying in Texas. About half have been in one of the 197 Texas shelters set up by local governments. A spokesman for Governor Rick Perry says officials have not yet determined the total cost. But he says Perry is confident that Washington is going to "step up and do the right thing'' to reimburse Texas. The memo says overtime pay for regular staff and newly hired security, shelter and transportation staff is eligible for reimbursement. But store vouchers or phone cards will not be reimbursed. FEMA also won't reimburse schools for the costs of additional teachers or textbooks. It will finance portable buildings and new computers.

The Texas Real Estate Commission is letting sales agents, brokers and inspectors who were licensed in states hit by Hurricane Katrina to get temporary licenses in Texas. The temporary licenses are good through March 31st for brokers and sales people, who must be sponsored by Texas real estate brokers to get the licenses. Sponsored inspectors can apply for temporary licenses good through February 28th.

A peace activist from Texas is set to be deported tomorrow after the Australian government labeled him a security threat. Scott Parkin of Houston today said he opposes violence and is "baffled'' about why he's being returned to the United States. Parkin was one of the leaders of a recent street protest in Sydney against the commercial interests of Houston-based Halliburton in war-torn Iraq. The demonstration was one in a series of rallies against the Iraq war, corporate greed and greenhouse gas emitters. The protests coincided with the annual Forbes Global CEO Conference at the Sydney Opera House in August. The 36-year-old teacher was detained by the Australian federal police in Melbourne on Saturday.

A net eight percent of chief information officers in the Houston area expect to hire IT professionals in the fourth quarter, according to the most recent Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report. That's with 12 percent expecting to hire and four percent anticipating reductions. The local results reflect a two-quarter rolling average based on the responses of 200 CIOs. A net seven percent of chief financial officers in the Houston area expect to hire accounting and finance professionals in the fourth quarter.

Duke Energy is shutting down most of its Houston-based wholesale power and trading business, as well as selling its power plants outside the Midwest region. Duke Energy North America employs 800 people, including 375 here in Houston. The number of jobs affected is not known, but Duke says it will try to place some workers elsewhere in the company. Duke is in the midst of a $9 billion merger with Cincinnati-based Cinergy that may create some openings.

Construction has begun on a new $2.5 million headquarters at the Oak Park development in Westchase for Houston-based SpectraCell Laboratories, according to the Houston Business Journal. SpectraCell provides blood testing services for physicians nationwide, testing for vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and antioxidants at the cellular level.

Jacobs Engineering Group has won a $125 million contract to provide front-end engineering for a proposed Flint Hills Resources crude oil revamp project in Rosemount, Minnesota. The revamp will increase capacity to process heavy crude.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Streicher Mobile Fueling is acquiring Houston-based H&W Petroleum and Harkrider Distributing Company in a $6.3 million deal. Harkrider will first be acquired by H&W. Harkrider is a marketer and distributor of dry cleaning solvents, chemicals and petroleum products. Streicher Mobile Fueling provides outsourced energy and transportation logistics to the trucking, construction, energy, chemical and government service industries.

Luby's plans to open two new restaurants in Texas in 2007, although the Houston-based company is not disclosing where the new cafeterias would be located. Luby's operates 131 restaurants in Houston and elsewhere.

A screening of The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream is set for tonight at seven at the Museum of Fine Arts Brown Auditorium Theater in the Carol Wiess Law Building on Bissonnet. Matthew Simmons, who appears in the film, leads a post-screening discussion about the issues raised by the film, which was directed by Gregory Greene. Simmons is chairman of a specialized energy investment banking firm he founded in 1974.

After a $30 million donation, a cancer research campus has been named the Red and Charline McCombs Institute for Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer to honor the San Antonio couple. The McCombs Family Foundation donated the money to the University of Texas M. S. Anderson Cancer Center, where scientists are exploring new approaches to find and treat cancer in its earliest stages. Millionaire businessman B. J. "Red'' McCombs is known for being the financial powerhouse behind winning professional basketball and football teams, successful car dealerships and dozens of business and philanthropic ventures around the state. The McCombs donation, earmarked for research, will help fund a $500 million expansion that establishes research institutes for cancer genetics, immunology, proton therapy, diagnostic technology and cancer spread.

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