Tuesday PM December 19th, 2006

Kinder Morgan shareholders approve buyout by Richard Kinder/Richard Morgan-led investment group...Bayport contractor suing Port of Houston over delayed payments...Greater Houston Partnership delegation takes business development mission to Mexico...

Houston-based Kinder Morgan says shareholders have approved a bid from an investment group that includes its chief executive to buy all shares of the stock, taking the company private. Chairman and CEO Richard Kinder and company co-founder Richard Morgan are leading an investor group to buy Kinder Morgan for about $15 billion plus the assumption of some $7 billion in debt. The transaction is anticipated to close in the first quarter of 2007. Kinder Morgan owns or operates some 43,000 miles of pipelines and more than 150 terminals.

Casino giant Harrah's Entertainment is agreeing to a $90-a-share buyout offer from two private equity firms. According to Harrah's, the deal is worth $27.8 billion, which includes $10.7 billion worth of debt assumption. Initially, Apollo and Texas Pacific offered $81-a-share. The agreement is about a 36-percent premium over that. Harrah's says the deal is expected to close in about a year. It has to be approved by shareholders, as well as regulators in the various places where Harrah's does business. The company has 39 casinos in the U.S., including namesake properties in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. This is the largest deal ever to take a public casino company private. And according to Thomson Financial, it ranks as the seventh largest leveraged buyout ever.

The contractor building the Port of Houston's $1.2 billion Bayport container terminal is suing the port over delayed payments. San Antonio-based Zachry Construction says the port has slowed the job by making last-minute changes in the late stages of the project, repeatedly delaying the opening, but demanding a speed-up in the pace of the work. Port officials have attributed some delays to methods contractors planed to use. Zachry was told to alter its original ground-freezing process that would have allowed for faster excavation. Zachry holds more than $100 million in contracts with the port, including building a wharf and container yard. Port officials hope the terminal will be completed in January.

The Commission Port of Houston Authority approved an $85,000 contract amendment with Zachry to provide for additional circuit breakers at the lighting distribution panel and other modifications. The commission also approved a $1.29 million Port Road expansion project, contracting with Sparks-Barlow-Barnett to provide and construction work. A $163,000 street sweeper was purchased from Linlock Equipment & Supply. And a $1.26 million contract amendment was approved for BAE Systems Integration because of increased material and installation costs for cameras, access controls, alarm and management controls.

BP announced the resignation of a key refining executive, adding to management upheavals after a difficult year in the United States. BP said that London-based Refining Global Vice President Mike Hoffman would leave the company on April 30th to return to the United States. The company said he will be replaced by C.J. Warner, a regional vice president for health, safety and the environment. Hoffman was appointed to the refining post in 2002 and was in charge in March 2005 when an explosion at BP's Texas City plant killed 15 workers and injured hundreds more. The accident has spurred numerous government probes and an independent review. The company is also facing several lawsuits from families of those killed or injured workers. An independent panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker is due to release a likely critical report on BP's U.S. refining operations in January.

A Greater Houston Partnership delegation is on a one-day business development mission to Mexico, meeting with President Felipe Calderon and five members of his cabinet. The delegation is also meeting with the Minister of Energy, A Central Bank of Mexico official, the CEO of PEMEX, an official with the Ministry of Foreign Relations, an official with the Ministry of the Economy and an official with the Ministry of Communications and Transportation. The Houston delegation is being led by John Hofmeister, president and chairman of Shell Oil USA and 2007 chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership. The delegation includes the aviation director of Houston's airports, as well as leaders of El Paso Corporation, Continental Airlines, the Port of Houston Authority, Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America, Parker Drilling and others.

Overseas Shipholding Group will pay a $37 million fine after admitting to illegally dumping waste oil and falsifying pollution logs in six ports. The list includes Beaumont. The other ports are in: Boston; Los Angeles: Portland, Maine; San Francisco; and Wilmington, North Carolina. The oil tanker and bulk shipping company agreed to plead guilty to 33 felony counts stemming from dumping violations from nine ships and for log violations for three others. The $27.8 million criminal fine will be divided among the districts. The $9.2 million community service payment will fund marine environmental projects. The company agreed to a three-year probation during which it must implement a stringent environmental control program. The Coast Guard says the $37 million fine is the largest criminal penalty involving deliberate vessel pollution.

The burnoff continued today at an oil storage tank site near Springtown where an explosion left one teen dead and another hurt. Encana spokeswoman Deborah West also says the company is cooperating with authorities in the investigation. Parker County officials say it appears the youths used a lit match to try to look into the tank. Fire Marshal Shawn Scott says the two were exploring around a pair of tanks when the explosion occurred after the lid was raised. The lit match ignited vapors in the tank. The resulting fire spread to about four acres and a second tank. West declined comment on security at the site--as the investigation continues.

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