Thursday PM January 11th, 2007

Venezuela considering nationalizing oil projects by Houston-based ConocoPhillips and others...TI promotes DLP technology at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas...Attorneys for Enron shareholders ask judge to drop Ken Lay and four other former executives from class-action lawsuit...

Venezuela's finance minister says the government may nationalize four heavy oil projects in the nation's oil-rich Orinoco river basin. Rodrigo Cabezas says the state may take such measures if it's unable to negotiate a majority stake with foreign oil companies that run the projects. The companies now controlling the Orinoco projects are BP, Irving-based Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Houston-based ConocoPhillips, the French oil company Total and Norway's Statoil. Cabezas' remarks clarified that the government is still seeking to obtain majority control through talks with the companies. That's after President Hugo Chavez announced this week plans to take control of "strategic sectors'' in telecommunications, power, oil and natural gas.

Dallas-based Texas Instruments is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, promoting it Digital Light Processing technology better known as DLP. Charles Bornstein reports from Las Vegas.

Charles Bornstein audio

Attorneys for Enron shareholders have asked a judge to drop former Chairman Ken Lay and four other former executives from their class-action lawsuit. Lawyers for the University of California Board of Regents emphasize that the dismissals are not settlements. They're asking U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon to also drop Kenneth Rice, Joe Hirko and Kevin Hannon from Enron's broadband business, and Greg Whalley, former head of Enron's trading units.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne says President Bush has modified the leasing status of two areas in the Outer Continental Shelf in response to Congressional action and the requests of state leaders. The royalty rate for most new offshore deepwater federal oil and gas leases to 16.7 percent, or 1/6th. Most federal oil and gas is leased at a 12.5 percent royalty rate, onshore and offshore. The areas include the North Aleutian Basin of Alaska—Bristol Bay—and the central Gulf of Mexico, about 125 miles from Florida's coast. The areas were withdrawn from consideration for leasing through 2012 by President Clinton in 1998. Bush's action allows the Secretary of the Interior the option of offering these areas during the Minerals Management Service's next five-year oil and gas leasing program. Senator John Cornyn of Texas says Texas will receive an even greater return on exploration and production from the new offshore areas opened by the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.

The nation's lowest-paid workers are a step closer to making more money. The House has approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would increase the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. The hike would be phased in over 26 months. More than 80 Republicans joined with Democrats to pass the bill by a vote of 315-to-116. Other Republicans said the bill would hurt small business, because it doesn't contain any steps to offset the higher costs it imposes. Senate Democratic leaders already have said their bill will include tax breaks to help businesses that hire minimum wage workers. President Bush says he's willing to raise the minimum wage as long as the bill contains tax relief to help businesses. The minimum wage bill was the second of the six measures that Democrats have promised to pass during their first weeks in power in the new Congress.

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee says the panel intends to consider a package of small business tax breaks to accompany an expected minimum-wage increase. Montana Democrat Max Baucus says the idea is have any tax cuts fully offset with corresponding revenue hikes. While he didn't provide details, a Senate aide says Baucus is working on a package of tax cuts that cost between $8 and $10 billion over ten years. Congress is considering a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage for the first time since 1997.

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