Thursday AM March 15th, 2007

Congressional study: LNG tanker fires could burn people a mile away...ConocoPhillips turning over control of Venezuelan projects...UH-led Lone Star Wind Alliance named finalist for wind turbine R&D facility...

A new Congressional study says an attack on a tanker ship carrying liquefied natural gas could cause a fire that burns people a mile away. The Government Accountability Office examined terror risks on the nation's waterways and urges the Energy Department to perform further research on the consequences of such an inferno. The safety issue is a concern because of a rush of proposals for new terminals for tankers carrying liquid natural gas. Some of the plans would place facilities in or near populated areas. Plus, there's a projected 400 percent increase in LNG imports over the next 10 years. A House committee is planning hearings on the subject. Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Ennis, Texas, says the tankers have "excellent'' safety records and haven't been attack targets. But he says research is needed as a precaution.


ConocoPhillips reports it expects long-term production to grow at a rate of about three percent. That's in line with expectations. Chairman Jim Mulva says the company is honoring a decree by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and turning over operational control of three joint-venture projects in that country. Mulva--in a meeting with Wall Street analysts in New York--said ownership has yet to be resolved. Chavez has ordered the takeover of oil projects run by foreign oil companies by May 1st. ConocoPhillips has two projects in the oil-rich Orinoco River region and another offshore. Mulva expects talks with Venezuelan authorities in the next few weeks about ownership and compensation. Talks should be completed by June 26th. The Houston-based oil company also reiterated previously announced plans to reduce capital spending this year by 25 percent.


The University of Houston-led Lone Star Wind Alliance has been named one of two finalists for the Department of Energy's new large-scale wind turbine research and development facility. The other finalist is in Massachusetts. Last year the DOE announced it was seeking partners to build a new facility for testing blades up to 70 meters long. The department has not announced when the final decision will be made. The alliance includes UH's Cullen College of Engineering, UT Austin, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, West Texas A&M, the Houston Advanced Research Center, Stanford, Montana State, New Mexico State, Old Dominion, the Texas General Land Office, the State Energy Conservation Office, the Texas Workforce Commission, Governor Rick Perry and Good Company Associates.


Houston-based equity firm First Reserve and Odyssey Investment Partners of New York are selling energy equipment maker Dresser to New York-based Riverstone Holdings, according to the Houston Business Journal. The companies purchased Dallas-based Dresser from Halliburton in 2001 for $1.3 billion. Dresser employs more than 8,500 workers in more than 100 countries, making engines, natural gas processing equipment and measuring instruments.


The government says the broadest measure of the nation's trade gap set a record for the fifth straight year. At the same time, the current account imbalance was shrinking in the final three months of last year, helped by a lower foreign oil bill. The Commerce Department says the current account rose to more than $856 billion last year, an increase of more than eight percent. For the fourth quarter, the deficit shrank by more than 14 percent to nearly $196 billion. It is the smallest quarterly imbalance since the summer of 2005.


OPEC is seen holding oil output targets steady as ministers of the 12-nation group prepare for a meeting this week. That's the word coming from some cartel members, commenting on the eve of the gathering. The comments reflect the cartel's apparent satisfaction with current prices. OPEC had made two cuts in the past four months. Crude prices have declined from the record highs above $78 a barrel last summer. But at around $60 a barrel, they are still more than 40 percent above 2004 levels.


Eight former workers at a Swift meat-processing plant in Cactus, Texas, have pleaded guilty to felony charges over a 2006 illegal immigration raid. The U.S. Attorney's Office says the pleas were entered in federal court in Amarillo. No sentencing dates were immediately set. Forty-five cases are pending related to the December 12th raid at the Swift plant in the Texas panhandle. All 53 people were indicted in January. One man pleaded guilty to illegally re-entering the U.S. after he'd been deported. The count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Two people pleaded guilty to falsely representing a social security number as belonging to them in order to work at Swift. That count carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Five people pleaded guilty to using fraudulently obtained ID's, including a social security card, to make it appear that they were in the U.S. legally. The count carries a maximum of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.


The 25-story office tower at 1301 Fannin has been sold to Griffin Properties for $114.5 million, according to the Houston Business Journal. The sale includes a five-level parking garage. Major tenants include ExxonMobil, AIM Management Group and JPMorgan Chase Bank. The building was sold by San Diego-based The Shidler Group subsidiary AGBRI Fannin, in partnership with Angelo, Griffin & Company. The building changed hands three times in 1997. Aetna Life Insurance sold the building to Cornerstone Real Estate Advisors in the summer of that year, which then sold it to GE Capital partners. GE Capital sold it to Octagon Group in October 1997.


Norwegian satellite communications firm Marlink is making Houston its North American headquarters, according to the Houston Business Journal. The satellite equipment and services company is opening an expanded regional operations center here to service maritime and offshore industry customers.


The Houston-based Anime Network is now available to Grande Communications subscribers in Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas, San Antonio and Waco. A new distribution deal will provide 24-hour linear carriage for digital customers in those cities. Grande is headquartered in San Marcos. The Anime network is a subsidiary of A.D. Vision, and is now available in more than 40 million households.


ABM Industries is moving its ABM Janitorial unit to Houston next year, according to the Houston Chronicle. The firm will move its corporate headquarters to New York from San Francisco at the end of 2008. ABM provides janitorial, parking, security, engineering and lighting services. The facilities contractor's non-janitorial operations, including AMPCO Parking and ABM Security Services, will remain in southern California. But support functions will be consolidated in Houston.


Houston-based Christian Brothers Automotive has opened a new franchise in Fort Worth—the 12th store in the Fort Worth area. This is the franchise's 41st outlet. The automotive service has facilities in Texas and six other states.


Kimberly-Clark's chairman and chief executive received compensation totaling $9.6 million in 2006. The Irving-based consumer products giant revealed the payment to Thomas J. Falk in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Falk has led the maker of Kleenex tissues and Huggies diapers since 2002. The SEC filing says he received a salary of $1.18 million, plus $8.43 million in incentives, stock awards and perquisites. The $118,000 in perks included use of the corporate aircraft and personal security services. Additionally, he earned stock dividends of $545,000 and exercised options worth $587,000. The 47-year-old has worked for the company since 1983, starting as an auditor and rising through the corporate ranks. The proxy statement filed with the SEC says he'd be eligible for a severance package of up to $22.25 million if he was terminated. Last year, Kimberly-Clark sales rose despite heavy competition in the diaper market. It also saw growth in its health and personal care segments with face masks and examination glove sales up as fears grew about bird flu. Its 2006 earnings fell 4.5 percent to $1.5 billion--but its stock rose through most of the year. That trend continued into the early part of 2007 until recent stock market declines.


More than $13 million in state grants will be shared by six technology companies and schools. The funding was announced by Governor Rick Perry's office. The grants are awarded under the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. PLX Pharma of Houston will get $2 million. Molecular Logix of The Woodlands will receive nearly $795,000. Nanocoolers of Austin will get $3 million. The University of Texas at Tyler gets $3.75 million. Optisense Network of Bridgeport will get $1.5 million. The University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth will get almost $2.3 million.


Rice University is ranked fourth on Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine's list of the 50 best values among private universities. The rankings, published in the April issue, are based on academic quality and affordability. Caltech, Yale and Harvard lead the new rankings by the publication.


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