Monday PM April 23rd, 2007

CSB renews call for new guidelines for placing trailers and portables on refinery grounds...Gasoline prices up 69 cents so far this year...National Association for Business Economics expect two to three percent growth rate in first half of 2007....

A federal investigative board is again giving poor marks to industry safety efforts at U.S. oil refineries. The board says oil and natural gas industry efforts to revise rules on placing worker trailers at refineries have fallen short. That effort comes in the wake of a deadly 2005 BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people. All 15 died in the two trailers closest to the blast site. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board had previously asked the American Petroleum Institute to devise new guidelines for locating worker trailers and temporary structures at U.S. refineries. API spokesman Bill Bush said the revised guidelines are not finalized and the organization is still taking feedback on them. The accident also injured more than 170 people. Injuries and structural damage occurred in 44 trailers, including some nearly a thousand feet from the blast site. In its final report, issued last month, the federal board said overly lax federal oversight and cost-cutting by BP were factors in the explosion.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers is hosting its spring national meeting in Houston at the Hilton Americas through Friday. Thousands of chemical engineers have gathered for the meeting, which is concurrent with the 3rd Global Congress on Process Safety. The process safety participants are looking at hurricane preparation, security standards, as well as lessons learned from the BP Texas City accident.

Gas prices have gone up more than eight cents nationwide the last two weeks. They're up 69 cents so far this year. The latest Lundberg Survey shows the average cost of self-serve regular on Friday was $2. 87. The survey released checked in with 7,000 gas stations across the country. A gallon of mid-grade gasoline averaged about $2.98. Premium was $3.09. Prices were about 15 cents below the all-time record in August 2006, when regular gas averaged $3.03 per gallon.

Fire officials say there were no injuries or substantial damage from a gas flare that soared more than 100 feet over an east Fort Worth power plant and nearby highways. Fort Worth Fire Lieutenant Kent Worley says the flare happened on a 24-inch transmission line that feeds the Exelon Corporation Handley power plant. Worley says a relief valve tripped as designed, but some spark ignited the gas. Worley says there were no injuries and a worker was able to shut off the valve after about 20 minutes, killing the flare. The investigation now begins into the source of the spark. However, the flare was beneath high-voltage transmission lines from the power plant. The plant is near the intersection of Interstate 820 and Spur 303. The flare disrupted rush hour traffic on the heavily traveled highways and prompted spur 303 to be closed.

A Houston judge put more than 1,000 Texas lawsuits surrounding the once-popular pain pill Vioxx on hold. Those lawsuits are now question after State District Judge Randy Wilson ruled that Merck, which manufactured the drug, did give adequate warning about the dangers. Merck's attorneys had argued that a 2003 Texas law should prevent Ruby Ledbetter--who's filed a suit against Merck--from claiming she wasn't properly warned about Vioxx. Travis Sales, one of Merck's attorneys, said the judge previously told lawyers that a decision would put all Texas cases on hold until appeals courts rule on the issue. Vioxx is an arthritis pain reliever that was pulled from the market in 2004 when a study showed it could double the risk of heart attack or stroke if taken more than 18 months. Merck said it now faces more than 27,000 personal injury lawsuits over the drug nationwide. The company is sticking by its plan of defending each of thousands of claims over Vioxx, rather than settling the suits.

The nation's only nuclear weapons assembly plant says security remains high at its Amarillo facility despite a strike this week by guards. Pantex dismantles and assembles the nation's nuclear weapons. The 537-member guard union has been on strike after rejecting a contract offer from the plant contractor. Pantex spokesman Jud Simmons said guards from other federal weapons facilities--as well as non-union guards--are filling in during contract talks. Tons of plutonium recovered from scrapped warheads are also stored at the 16,000 acres plant in the panhandle.

A survey of business economists shows they generally expect the economy to keep on keeping on. Two-thirds of the members of the National Association for Business Economics surveyed look for a growth rate in the neighborhood of two-to-three percent in the first half of the year. The gross domestic product grew at a two and a-half percent rate in the final three months of 2006. Advance figures for the first quarter are due later this week. The housing sector, particularly problems with mortgages, are not expected to go away any time soon. Sectors most likely to be affected include transportation, utilities and communication. The survey also shows that just a minority of companies—29 percent--plan to do any hiring in the coming months.

World Energy Solutions has opened a regional office in Houston, according to the Houston Business Journal. The World Energy Exchange online auction platform will remain headquartered in Worcester, Massachusetts.

ODS-Petrodata has launched Energy Current, a new online news service offering global coverage of targeted energy industry segments, according to the Journal. The Houston-based offshore oil and gas industry news service covers breaking energy news, as well as analysis of industry trends and events.

Internet users can search for and purchase documents from multiple societies by using, a new online library of more than 60,000 technical papers covering the upstream oil and gas industry. The site if operated by the Society of Petroleum Engineers.

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