Friday PM October 6th, 2006

Enron's Paula Rieker gets two years probation and fine... Fastow will get day passes from prison to give depositions in investor lawsuits...Job fair to staff renovated Warwick Hotel set for Saturday at Reliant Center...

Enron's former number-two investor relations executive Paula Rieker has been sentenced to two years probation. She had faced up to ten years in prison. U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon said probation and a $50,000 fine is appropriate because of Rieker's cooperation with prosecutors. Rieker helped link Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling to fraud in their trial early this year, testifying that she believed Skilling deliberately misled analysts about Enron's failing broadband unit. Rieker was a top investor relations executive until September 2001, when she became corporate secretary and answered directly to Lay. She pleaded guilty to insider trading in May 2004, admitting to selling stock after learning the broadband unit had lost more money in one quarter than Skilling had told Wall Street it would lose all year. Rieker is among 16 ex-Enron executives who have pleaded guilty in the probe of the company's collapse. Andy Fastow, Enron's ex-chief financial officer, was sentenced to six years in prison last month. His sentence came less than a week after David Delainey, former head of Enron's failed retail energy unit, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for insider trading. Timothy DeSpain, former assistant treasurer, received four years probation last month. Former mid-level broadband unit executive Larry Lawyer received two years probation. Skilling and former executive Richard Causey are to be sentenced later this month.

Former Enron CFO Andy Fastow, serving a six-year prison term for his part in the fraud that destroyed the company, will be given day passes to give depositions in lawsuits by investors. Bloomberg reports U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon agreed to the releases. He must remain in custody of U.S. marshals while on release and cannot go anywhere except the deposition center, several blocks from the downtown federal prison. Fastow submitted a 24-page document outlining the role of banks in the fraud at Enron when he was sentenced. His depositions will describe the role some of the nation's largest banks played in helping Enron conceal losses.

Brookfield Properties and private equity firm The Blackstone Group have confirmed their purchase of the former Enron office building in downtown Houston. The joint venture paid $120 million to Towanda Development for the office tower at 1400 Smith. New York-based Brookfield says Chevron USA has signed a lease for the entire 50-story skyscraper.

Texas retail gasoline prices continue to fall for a ninth week. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey released today finds prices of regular, self-serve gasoline at the pump are averaging $2.17 per gallon. That's down four cents from last week. The national average is $2.29 per gallon--down a nickel from last week. Houston pumps dropped over three cents to around $2.09. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the price drop is aided by lower crude oil prices, increasing oil inventories, a calm hurricane season and falling demand. The cheapest gasoline is found in Corpus Christi, where it's fallen a penny a gallon from last week to $2.05. The priciest gas is in El Paso, where it averages $2.34 per gallon--despite an eight-cent fall.

The Environmental Protection Agency says BP and Shell have agreed to pay $1.5 million in fines for selling gasoline that failed to meet federal clean air standards. The EPA says the settlements resolve alleged violations that occurred between 1999 and 2004 at gas stations, fuel-handling terminals and refineries. BP will pay a civil penalty of $900,000 and Shell affiliates Motiva Enterprises and Equilon Enterprises will pay $600,000 in fines.

Officials say one man was killed and two others were injured when the tank they had been working on exploded in Odessa. Officials say 28-year-old Brian Christopher Huerta died yesterday in the accident at H&H Valve Services. Hector County Sheriff's Sergeant Gary Duesler says the explosion was "an industrial accident involving the pressurizing of a valve.'' The sheriff's office was investigating the cause of the tank failure. Representatives of the business declined to comment. Ronnie Reynosa says her son, Joe Reynosa, was injured in the accident. She says the three men had just finished working on the tank when it blew up.

It was a violent week in Nigeria's oil-producing region, where officials say militants attacked an oil company convoy and a pumping station. The militants say they killed nine soldiers Wednesday during 90 minutes of fighting with government forces at the pumping station belonging to a Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary. They also say they've captured two government gunboats. The militants, in an e-mail, say they acted in defense after being attacked by army gunboats and a helicopter gunship. They also say they plan more attacks, and they're warning oil companies to evacuate staff.

A job fair to find employees to staff the renovated Warwick Hotel on Main is set for Saturday at Reliant Center. Hotel ZaZa, as it's now known, will have its entire management team interviewing applicants on the spot for over 300 positions.

The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the United States dropped by 20 this week to 1,724. Houston-based Baker Hughes reports today that of the rigs running nationwide, 1,432 were exploring for natural gas and 288 for oil. Baker Hughes listed four as miscellaneous. A year ago, the rig count stood at 1,481. Of the major oil- and gas-producing states, Texas gained one . Baker Hughes has tracked rig counts since 1944. The tally peaked At 4,530 in 1981, at the height of the oil boom. The industry posted several record lows in 1999, bottoming out at 488.

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