Friday AM October 13th, 2006

Justice Department subpoenas depositions and documents concerning deadly BP Texas City blast...China's state-sanctioned labor group targets Dell in organizing Chinese workers...California-based developer to build 138 acre mixed-use development in Friendswood...

Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena to a lawyer representing a woman whose parents died in the BP Texas City blast, according to the Houston Chronicle . Brent Coon of Beaumont is turning over dozens of depositions and hundreds of documents, including applications related to permits BP received from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to operate the equipment that eventually exploded, killing 15 people. Coon says the documents contain evidence that BP misled the agency in order to win permits to operate the blowdown drum and vent stack associated with refinery's isomerization unit. The Justice Department began its probe after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied a record $21.3 million fine against BP in September for more than 300 violations. BP has settled more than 1,000 claims in the past 18 months. BP Chief Executive John Browne has been ordered by State District Judge Susan Criss to give a deposition in the case, set to go to trial on November 8th.

BP has begun building a steam-driven electricity generation plant at its Texas City refinery. BP Alternative Energy, which oversees wind energy, natural gas-fired power generation and hydrogen power plants, is in charge of the $100 million project. The plant is expected to be running by mid-2008. Surplus power will be sold on the open market.

BP is working on electrical problems that shut down Prudhoe Bay in Alaska on Tuesday, following three days of adverse weather that coated insulators on high-voltage lines with mud. Facing criticism after two leaks in Alaska over the past seven months, BP says the shutdown of its power system is not from aging infrastructure.

Soaring oil prices sent the U.S. trade deficit to a record of almost $70 billion in August. The Commerce Department says record imports of oil swamped a healthy gain in U.S. exports. The deficit hit $69.9 billion, a jump of 2.7 percent from July. Analysts believe the deficit will soon improve, since oil prices have dropped by about 25 percent since peaking at about $78 a barrel in July. Meanwhile, the deficit with China climbed by more than 12 percent to a record of $22 billion in August. It is running more than 13 percent above last year, when it hit $202 billion. Democrats are certain to use the deficit numbers to attack the president's trade policies in the fight for control of Congress.

The number of people filing first-time claims for jobless benefits rose by 4,000 last week. That was less than analysts had expected. The Labor Department says a total of 308,000 people filed claims for unemployment benefits. That's up slightly from a revised figure of 304,000 the previous week.

China's state-sanctioned labor group says it's targeting Eastman Kodak and Round Rock-based Dell in an effort to organize workers at foreign-owned companies. That comes after the success of the All-China-Federation of Trade Unions at unionizing Wal-Mart's 62 Chinese outlets. The federation official says the campaign aims to double the group's presence in foreign companies by the end of this year to 60 percent of the total--or some 90,000 companies. Foreign-financed companies employ millions of Chinese workers but have remained largely outside the country's union system. The ACFTU is the umbrella body for unions permitted by China's Communist government, which doesn't allow independent labor groups and harasses and jails activists. Unions affiliated with the body represent some 150 million Chinese workers.

California-based Eclipse Development Group is building a 138 acre mixed-use development in Friendswood at FM 528 and NASA Parkway, opening in the fall of 2008. The Falls at Friendswood will be the first pedestrian-friendly mixed-use development in that area. A boutique hotel, custom townhomes, condominiums and upscale apartments are planned.

The housing market may have cooled in many places, but many Americans believe it remains very tough to buy that first home. According to an Associated Press-AOL real estate poll, 80 percent of Americans believe it's difficult for most first-time buyers to afford a home. Fifty-nine percent think the situation is worse now than five years ago. Younger adults and minorities say it's harder now to buy, compared to older people and whites. Looking ahead, 49 percent of people surveyed predicted that housing prices in their area will go up in the next two years, while 18 percent think they'll go down. Thirty-two percent believe prices will stay the same. The chief economist at Moody's Web site says future prices probably will depend on where you live.

Houston-based RediClinic is leasing space in nine Wal-Mart Supercenters in Richmond, Virginia, to open in early 2007. RediClinics are in-store facilities offering non-emergency medical services, staffed by certified nurse practitioners with physician oversight to diagnose, treat and prescribe medicine for common medical conditions. The clinics also administer medical tests, vaccinations and basic physical exams. There are five RediClinics in the Houston area, with plans to double that number. Houston-based Intrepid Holdings plans to open a clinic in a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pasadena on October 18th.

The University of Houston System at Sugar Land has selected Architechnics 3 and Page Southerland Page to design its new $35 million academic building. Page Southerland will update the master plan, programming and design, while Architecnics 3 will handle specifications and construction documentation. Groundbreaking is expected in the first quarter of 2007 for the building which will include 60 classrooms, a performance hall and computer labs, plus recreational facilities. Classes will being in Fall of 2008.

Lexicon Genetics has received a $2.5 million one-year contract extension from the U.S. Army's medical research and material command to continue a drug research program. The Houston-based company is studying possible drug candidates to treat spinal muscular atrophy.

Houston-based DXP Enterprises has completed the $2.2 million acquisition of Safety International, an Odessa company that provides safety and environmental consulting and training services, equipment sales, service and rentals. DXP is a products and service distributor providing pumping services, supply and maintenance, repair, and operating and production services.

Houston-based Oceaneering International has signed a $30 million deal with Mariner Energy of Houston, according to the EM>Houston Business Journal. Oceaneering will supply umbilicals and associated hardware for the Bass Lite oil and gas field development in the Gulf of Mexico.

Patriot Mechanical Handling of Houston has been awarded a nearly $9 million order from the Brazilian subsidiary of Queiroz Galvao called Eisner Business. The order is for a mechanical handling rig set comprising blowout prevention systems and subsea tree transporters for a new semi-submersible drilling platform.

Houston-based Mattress Firm has opened its 17th retail store in San Antonio, boosting its store count nationwide to more than 340 stores in 32 markets. The new outlet is near San Antonio's Legacy Shopping Center.

This is the final day of Recertification Workshops for hurricane evacuees for continued rental aid and employment opportunities at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The city's Joint Hurricane Housing Task Force is helping evacuees apply with FEMA to be recertified for extended rental benefits through next February. Those who fail to recertify will lost their housing aid on October 31st. Recertification for Katrina households can be extended to February 28th, and Rita households can extend through March 24th. Attendees have access or referrals to expertise in preparing and copying resumes, polishing interview skills, posting resumes online and applying for job openings or career training.

The CEO and president of Houston-based Lopez Negrete Communications received the "Latin Business Marketing Spirit Award" from Latin Business magazine at the magazine's annual gala yesterday in Los Angeles.

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