Tuesday December 13th, 2005

ConocoPhillips acquiring Burlington Resources...Enron founder maintains innocence, blames Andrew Fastow, asks former employees to testify...

Houston-based ConocoPhillips is acquiring oil and gas producer Burlington Resources. It's a deal worth $35.6 billion. ConocoPhillips said the transaction, which has to be approved by Burlington Resources shareholders, will expand its gas reserves and make it a leading producer of natural gas in North America. Burlington is heavily-invested in so-called "unconventional" gas, such as resources trapped in coal beds and other difficult formations. Those reserves are more expensive to get out of the ground, but skyrocketing prices makes extraction more worthwhile. The takeover will be the biggest such transaction in the oil and gas industry in several years, but it won't move ConocoPhillips up from its rank as the third-largest energy company in the United States. ConocoPhillips employs 35,800 people worldwide, with 4,500 in Houston. Houston-based Burlington has 2,200 employees.

The founder of Enron today maintained he's innocent of wrongdoing related to the 2001 collapse of the Houston-based company. Ken Lay faces trial next month in Houston on federal fraud and conspiracy charges. Lay, who spoke to about 800 business and academic leaders at the Houston Forum, decried the Justice Department's tactics in pursuing him and others. Lay says many events led to the fall of Enron.

Ken Lay audio 1

Lay lays the blame directly on Andrew Fastow, who he says has admitted to stealing from the company.

Ken Lay audio 2

Lay says he was greatly affected by the losses sustained by thousands of employees.

Ken Lay audio 3

Lay faces trial January 17th--alongside former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former top accountant Richard Causey. All have pleaded innocent. Lay was indicted in July of 2004. Skilling and Causey face more than 30 counts of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading, lying to auditors and others.

A Texas bankruptcy judge has ordered 40 former Enron traders to return $20 million in bonuses they received just before the Houston-based company went bankrupt. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert McGuire of Dallas, who's sitting in Houston for this case, has ruled that the bonuses in question were fraudulent and improperly preferential. So the money will go to employees fired around the same time. Enron paid out $105 million in bonuses to favored trading personnel just before it declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2001. Lawyers for an Enron employee committee say the $20 million will be added to $50 million already recovered for the former employees through negotiation and litigation.

Exxon Mobil predicted today that global energy consumption will soar 60 percent over the next 25 years. The projection is included in the Irving-based oil giant's annual energy outlook released today. In a webcast on the forecast, Exxon Mobil Corporate Planning Chief Jaime Spellings says energy demand will grow to 334 million barrels of oil equivalent a day in 2030. That's up from 205 million in 2000. He also says oil consumption will grow 1.4 percent a year, and gas consumption will grow by 1.8 percent a year. He says oil and gas will account for 60 percent of the world's energy needs, the same share they hold today. Spelling says most of the growth will occur in developing countries.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines will be competing with Southwest Airlines on more than Missouri flights out of Dallas Love Field. The nation's largest airline announced today that it plans to start 16 daily flights from Love to Austin and San Antonio, as well as to Kansas City and St. Louis. It plans to launch the service March 2nd. The announcement comes after Dallas-based Southwest Airlines began its first nonstop flights today from Love to St. Louis and Kansas City. American says shifting flights to the downtown facility would weaken Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport--but they're forced to respond to Southwest's expansion. Southwest expanded quickly at Love two weeks after President Bush signed legislation that adds Missouri to the states allowed to be served from Love under a 1979 federal law.

Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans reportedly has been offered the board chairmanship at a major state-run Russian oil company. Rosneft leapt into the top rankings of Russian oil companies after it acquired the largest production unit of the Yukos Oil Company following a highly disputed auction. The Moscow business daily Kommersant reports Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the job to the Midland businessman. The newspaper reports the offer to chair Rosneft came last week during a Moscow visit by the close friend of President Bush. No one could be most immediately reached for comment at Rosneft's Moscow headquarters. Rosneft is preparing for an initial public offering sometime in 2006. Kommersant reports Evans is being courted to signal the company's commitment to good management practices.

Nearly $1.8 million in Hurricane Rita relief grants will be shared by people in several Texas counties. Governor Rick Perry says the grants from the Texas Disaster Relief Fund must be distributed by May. Rita came ashore September 24th near Sabine Pass. Here's a look at the funding that's available to citizens and communities: $1.6 million in grants will be going to Jefferson County. The money includes a $1 million donation from Irving-based Exxon Mobil. Newton County gets 29,500 in grants; Hardin County gets just under 118,000 in grants; and Montgomery County gets 46,500 in grants.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says consumers should be careful when sending money to family and loved ones in other countries over the holidays. Abbott is working with Mexico's federal consumer protection agency Profeco and the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Texas Appleseed. The groups are recommending that consumers shop for money transfer services with the most economical fees and the best rates of exchange to other currency. The prevailing exchange rates are available in newspapers and on the web. Companies are required to provide receipts detailing the amount being sent, fees charged, exchange rates and a toll-free customer service phone number. The receipt must be translated into Spanish if the money is sent to a Spanish-speaking country. Complaints can be directed to the Texas Attorney General's office at 1-800-252-8011 or Profeco at 01-800-468-8722.

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