Monday PM August 14th, 2006

Four oil workers kidnapped in Port Harcourt, Nigeria...Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau celebrates accomplishments...European Commission gives okay to Encysive Pharmaceuticals to market pulmonary arterial hypertension drug...

Houston-based oilfield services company Smith International says one of its expatriate workers was taken hostage in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The Houston Business Journal reports that the company has not been contacted by the group which has claimed responsibility. Smith has a crisis management team working on the incident. Reuters reports that Briton John Guyan is one of four foreign oil workers kidnapped in Port Harcourt. Another victim is Bryan Fogerty, an Irish citizen who works for Houston-based Halliburton. Earlier this year, Willbros Group removed all of its workers from an offshore project in Nigeria where nine workers, including three Americans, were taken hostage by Nigerian militants. The kidnappings concide with an upsurge in militant attacks since February against the oil industry, which has cut oil production by 25 percent by the world's eighth largest exporter.

Authorities are investigating the death of a contract worker who was fatally injured this weekend at Lyondell's Equistar chemical plant in Channelview. Thirty-three-year-old Kenny Ruthart was working near heat-exchanger machinery used in the chemical reaction process when the accident occurred Saturday night. Lyondell spokesman Aaron Woods says Ruthart was doing maintenance at a facility that was temporarily out of service. Woods says nothing malfunctioned and no chemicals were released in the incident. Ruthart had worked since 2001 for Starcon International, which performs maintenance for the petrochemical and refinery industries. The Harris County Sheriff's Office, the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Lyondell are investigating.

In order to get Alaska's Prudhoe Bay pumping oil at full capacity, field operator BP is getting ready to run a marathon at a sprinter's pace. Contractors and suppliers are working to help BP replace 16 miles of pipeline on the nation's largest oil field by early next year. The plans to replace the severely corroded pipe would normally require several months lead time, but must now be drafted in weeks. That's if BP is to successfully go back to ferrying 400,000 barrels a day out of the nation's largest oil field. Right now up to 200,000 barrels of oil and natural gas are coming out of the aging North Slope field daily. Pete Leathard is the CEO for the Anchorage, Alaska-based energy services firm Veco. He says teams of inspectors and welders are examining pipelines, and then reinforcing them with steel sleeves. He says hundreds more workers are expected to get the call from other U.S. and Canadian regions. For now, BP estimates the costs for this repair and a March oil spill will reach about $170 million.

The Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau is celebrating its accomplishments, noting that hotel room nights and the convention business is booming. GHC&VB Chairman Doug Horn says that's in spite of the influx of evacuees from Louisiana last year.

"When the rest of the country was fumbling for solutions, we Houstonians stepped forward and said 'just do it!' We provided shelter and hope to over 350,000 storm-soaked evacuees, and right in the thick of it was your Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. Working with the Hotel Lodging Association of Greater Houston, we helped accomodate over 165,000 people in hotel rooms throughout the area."

GHC&VB President Jordy Tollett says teamwork has helped Houston grow its convention business.

"The biggest accomplishment of all is the way we've worked together as a community to market Houston efficiently and effectively with a single goal in mind: to improve the economy for our city and our region."

Mayor Bill White noted that room night statistics surpassed 600,000 for the third year in a row.

"Amazing to think that there was some 470,000 room nights sold in the city of Houston before just a few years back. And now we're up to 638,000 room nights? I'm a numbers guy, and I'll tell you what--those are impressive numbers. We've grown a lot, but we haven't grown by that large a percentage. It's a tremendous, impressive growth in the people that are coming and visiting Houston, many of which are coming for conventions."

The bureau generated $7 in future economic impact for every dollar spent. With an annual budget of $12, each department contributed to a combined economic impact of $800 million.

The European Commission has given Houston-based Encysive Pharmaceuticals permission to market its drug Thelin for pulmonary arterial hypertension. Permission to market in all 25 member states has been granted, but Encysive will first sell in the United Kingdom and Germany.

Prosecutors want former Enron CEO Jeff Skilling to pay fines demanded from him, and from his now-deceased former co-defendant Ken Lay. The government is now seeking some $183 million from Skilling, rather than the original $139 million. In May, both were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in Enron's collapse. Lay died of a heart attack on July 5th. Lay's lawyers have requested that U.S. District Judge Sim Lake eliminate Lay's fine, as he had not appealed the verdict or received a sentence by the time of his death. Sentencing for Skilling is set for October 23rd. Skilling plans an appeal.

Republican U.S. Representative Joe Barton of Ennis today toured the 400-acre site in Jewett proposed for FutureGen, praising the $1 billion project and efforts to bring it to Texas. Congressman Barton congratulated the four sites on the short list, including the two in Texas. Barton is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Jewett site has direct access to a working lignite mine and the electrical transmission infrastructure is already in place. FutureGen will be the world's first zero-emissions fossil fuel energy facility, designed as both a power plant and a research laboratory. The plant will generate electricity, produce hydrogen and capture and sequester carbon dioxide. A final site is to be announced in the latter half of 2007, with the plant operational by 2012.

Dynacq Healthcare has agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle a shareholder lawsuit. Dynacq was accused of violating federal securities laws by making or publishing misleading or false statements about the company's finances. Dynacq provides surgical healthcare and related services through hospitals and outpatient surgical centers.

Houston-based Whittier Energy has completed its acquisition of three oil and gas fields in Texas and Mississippi from Indiana-based Imperial Petroleum for about $10.6 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. Whittier acquires 17 operated producing wells, minor interests in four additional non-operated producing wells and four shut-in operated wells awaiting a workover rig.

A group of industrial buildings in south Houston has traded to a Washington investor for about $9.7 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. The investor acquired four industrial buildings on three acres in the Southbelt Industrial Park near Beltway 8 and Almeda Road.

Houston-based private equity firm The Sterling Group has completed its purchase of CST Industries, according to the Houston Business Journal. CST is a global manufacturer of factory-coated metal storage tanks.

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