Friday PM December 8th, 2006

House approves oil and gas drilling in Gulf of Mexico south of Florida panhandle...MMS bills BP for additional royalties and interest...Hewlett-Packard settles investigation and lawsuit over privacy issues from suspected boardroom leaks...

The U.S. House today approved oil and gas drilling in a vast area of the Gulf of Mexico--south of Florida's panhandle. The House also agreed to steer hundreds of millions of dollars in royalty payments to Gulf states to restore coastal wetlands and repair hurricane damage. The drilling provision was attached to a package of popular tax breaks that were approved as lawmakers scrambled to adjourn the 109th Congress. The tax legislation, including the drilling provision, was expected to be combined with a trade bill and then sent to the Senate in hopes of prompt approval. The House bill opens to energy companies 8.3 million acres in the east-central Gulf of Mexico that's currently off-limits to drilling.

Holiday gas prices rose sharply this week in Texas, according to the weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey. The survey finds retail prices for regular, self-serve gasoline is averaging $2.19 per gallon statewide. That's seven cents more than last week. Nationally, the price is averaging $2.30 per gallon--a nickel increase from last week. Here in Houston, the average is at $2.14, up over seven cents per gallon. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says it's too early to predict whether those higher pump prices will continue the rest of the year. She notes that there have been no major storms or refinery problems to affect retail prices, but consumer demand for gasoline has been increasing. Amarillo has the most expensive gas in Texas, with an average of $2.25 per gallon. That's up six cents from last week. Galveston-Texas City has the cheapest gas, averaging $2.14 per gallon. That's up seven cents from last week.

The Interior Department is billing a U.S. subsidiary of BP $32 million for royalties and interest, for natural gas the company extracted from federal lands in New Mexico over a 15-year period. The Mineral Management Service says BP owes the money for so-called coalbed methane production between June of 1991 and this past May. The announcement came one day after the Interior Department's inspector general criticized the MMS, for inadequate monitoring and inaccurate information on how much energy companies are pumping. The bill comes after an appeals court ruling upheld an agency rule that requires oil and gas producers to hear the case.

Hewlett-Packard is paying $14.5 million to settle an investigation and lawsuit by the California attorney general's office over privacy issues from suspected boardroom leaks. HP will create a $13.5 million "privacy and piracy" fund for the AG office's use in prosecuting intellectual property and privacy violations. Former HP chairwoman Patricia Dunn and other officers face criminal charges related to spying. An internal investigation found that HP hired outside investigators to find the source of a series of boardroom leaks, including secretly obtaining detailed phone logs of directors, employees and journalists. The investigators posed as their targets to obtain records. California-based HP employs 8,000 people in the Houston area after acquiring Compaq in a $19 billion deal in May 2004.

The company that distributes vegetables for Taco Bell says restaurants in eight states may have received scallions that may be linked to an e-coli outbreak. A lawyer for Temple-based McLane Company says two of the company's facilities on the east coast distributed the scallions to 450 Taco Bells in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. The outbreak has sickened 58 people in the northeast and has prompted concern among farmers after officials announced that the scallions suspected of carrying the bacteria came from a southern California farm. The green onion link to the infections hasn't been confirmed. A spokeswoman for the farm that grew the suspect scallions says the company is cooperating with the fast-food chain. She also says the company has not been contacted by health officials.

Dell has decided to settle a lawsuit brought by a northern New Jersey man. After five months and 19 phone calls, Pat Dori sued Round Rock-based Dell in small claims court for losing the laptop he'd sent in for repairs. The Hackensack, New Jersey, man had the court papers delivered to a Dell kiosk at a Paramus, New Jersey, shopping mall rather than to the company's headquarters in Texas. When no one from Dell appeared in court, Dori won a $3,000 default judgment. The ruling allowed court employees to close the kiosk and seize merchandise if the judgment was not paid. Dell had planned to appeal, but decided to settle for undisclosed terms. Spokesman Dwayne Cox tells the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, that it's spending more than $150 million to improve customer support.

Baker Hughes in Houston says the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by seven this week--to reach 1,724. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,483. Texas picked up 13 rigs this week.

Tags: News


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