Friday PM December 1st, 2006

AAA Texas says upward price trend of gasoline "baffling"...Galveston judge orders BP to turn over documents on improved safety practices in medical bills dispute...Four companies plan "speed recruiting" event, hoping to hire new oil and gas engineers...

The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey released today shows pump prices of regular, self-serve gas is averaging $2.12 per gallon. That's up almost two cents from last week. The national average is $2.25 per gallon--up about a penny. Houston's average is up almost two cents to $2.07 per gallon. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says the price trend is a little baffling. She says wholesale gas prices spiked for no apparent reason just before Thanksgiving. But since then, she says wholesale prices have eased with no apparent benefit to motorists. The biggest price increase this week is found in Texarkana, where they jumped four cents per gallon to $2.18. But the most expensive gas is in Amarillo, where they climbed almost three cents per gallon to almost $2.19. The cheapest gas is in Corpus Christi with an average of $2.03 per gallon--up a penny from last week.


A judge in Galveston today ordered BP to turn over documents on improved safety practices at a refinery--in a dispute over medical bills. The March 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery killed 15 people and left more than 170 hurt--including Alisa Dean, Tracy Donaie and Henry Rivera. Their lawyer told judge Susan Criss that BP's refusal to pay the medical bills of the three workers is part of the company's history of shortchanging safety. The trio settled their lawsuits in the summer of 2005. Lawyers for BP told Criss the company has paid the bills, it's not a safety issue and blamed the disputed payments on an inadvertent administrative delay. But attorney David Perry says the lack of payment resulted in liens being placed against the injured workers by a hospital. The dispute is scheduled for trial next month.


Four companies are taking part in a speed recruiting event Saturday at Marriot Westchase on Briarpark, hoping to hire new oil and gas engineers. Richard Sprague with construction and engineering recruiter EPCglobal says recruiters will meet briefly with candidates, paving the way for further talks with company representatives.

"Purpose of the event is to bring together the engineering community in the oil and gas sector with four major clients who are actually hiring for projects that they're doing in the Houston area or outside. So Foster Wheeler, SNC Lavalin, Amec Paragon and Turner & Townshend are all going to be represented. Their hiring managers will be there to meet with people. We've got big shortages in the engineering industry. Our clients are actually looking for people. They've got work won, they've got big projects and they are staffing up. So what we need is senior engineers, design engineers, we're looking for project managers, we're looking for project controls, people planning and cost engineers, we're looking for document controllers. We're basically looking for every major project discipline within engineering."

The event will be followed by a roundtable involving senior participants from each of the four companies, debating the oil and gas industry's recruitment predicament in Houston and elsewhere, and prospective solutions.


The United Steelworkers and supporters plan demonstrations at two Houston Goodyear tire stores on Saturday as the labor dispute at 15 Goodyear plants continues, including the soon-to-be-closed Tyler plant. Workers began their strike on October 5th. Union members say there are tire safety problems at plants that employ replacement workers during labor disputes.


OPEC's president says the oil cartel is likely to trim production, with the amount to be decided at a meeting scheduled in Nigeria's capital this month. The Venezuelan oil minister said OPEC could cut production by 500,000 barrels a day when it meets December 14th. The OPEC president says he wouldn't expect anything less than that. OPEC's plans and actual behavior are sometimes seen at odds by traders because of purported cheating by cartel members. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also said that OPEC members had reached a consensus to keep oil prices at $50 a barrel. The weekly average for the OPEC benchmark now is $6 above that.


A purchasing managers group says the manufacturing sector of the economy contracted last month for the first time in more than three years. The Institute for Supply Management says its key index came in at 49.5 percent, down 1.7 points from the previous month. Any number below 50 indicates contraction. In another report, the Commerce Department says October construction spending fell by the largest amount since the recession in 2001. The one percent decline was fueled in part by a seventh straight monthly drop in residential construction.


Two of the big three U.S. automakers enjoyed sales increases last month. Industry leader General Motors reports a gain of six percent, with a car sales drop of nearly eight percent outweighed by a surge of 16.6 percent in light truck sales. As it released its sales report, GM said it plans to build 1.14 million vehicles in the first quarter--down nine percent from a year ago. Earlier today, Ford reported U.S. sales of its cars and light trucks plunged 9.6 percent last month. Chrysler's sales were up three percent. Toyota sold more vehicles in the U.S. last month than Ford. It's the second month this year that's happened. The Japanese automaker says it sold 197,000 vehicles here last month--a gain of 15.9 percent. The number two U.S. automaker sold 181,000 vehicles in November. Toyota surpassed Ford in monthly sales last July for the first time ever.


Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. jumped by 20 this week--to hit 1,717. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,460. Texas picked up four rigs this week.


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