Friday PM May 11th, 2007

Amarillo and El Paso set new record gasoline price highs, as prices edge lower in eight other Texas cities...KPMG survey: oil executives say government support in developing renewable energy sources necessary to alleviate declining oil reserves...New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lays out national energy plan in Houston speech...

The average price of retail gasoline climbed for a 14th week in Texas. But the weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey shows price trends were mixed, with prices reaching record highs in some areas but falling in others. The survey found regular-grade gasoline averaged $2.87 per gallon in Texas, up a fraction of a cent per gallon. Houston's average is down just a tenth of a cent, to $2.85. Nationally, regular-grade prices rose five cents per gallon to $3.04. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says Amarillo and El Paso set new record highs this week, while prices edged lower in eight other cities. She says strong consumer demand, reduced domestic output because of refinery problems and lower gas imports apparently are still combining to keep prices high. The most expensive gas is in Amarillo, where regular grade rose eight cents to an average of $3.07 per gallon. Corpus Christi still has the cheapest gas at $2.78 per gallon--down just over a penny.


A new survey by KPMG finds many oil and gas industry executives say government involvement in supporting the development of renewable energy sources such as ethanol and other biofuels is necessary to alleviate the problem of declining oil reserves. KPMG's Bill Kimble says 25 percent of respondents said at least 75 percent of government funding into energy should be directed toward renewable energy sources.

"And what we found is 44 percent said that the government, really it's funding should be 50 percent traditional and 50 percent renewable. So, kinda new areas that we needed to focus in. And then, another 28 percent said that it should really be, you know, weighted towards more the renewable area. So what we're seeing, Ed, is we're seeing the oil and gas executives really saying there needs to be some government intervention here to make the economics of alternative energy work because we see our reserve replacement ratios going down."

One-third of the executives said they'd consider a vehicle that uses less gasoline, such as a hybrid, the next time they buy a family vehicle. Kimble says there's more interest in alternative energy.

"What we're seeing is that with commodity prices still staying pretty high, and with the declining reserve replacement ratio so that oil and gas companies are having a tougher time replacing reserves--with those factors, what we're seeing is really more of an interest in alternative energy from the respondents."

KPMG's e-mail survey of 553 petroleum industry executives was conducted in April by the audit, tax and advisory firm. KPMG will be discussing survey results during its fifth annual Global Energy Conference on May 22nd and 23rd at the Intercontinental Hotel in Houston.


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out a national energy plan--including wind farms--in a speech in Houston. Bloomberg has denied he's running for president. The Republican billionaire proposes creating profit motives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building new wind farms and nuclear plants, phasing out the incandescent light bulb and setting early deadlines to accomplish these goals. Bloomberg recently launched an effort to drastically reduce pollution by 2030 in New York City.


Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is giving odds on the chances of a U.S. recession. He is said to have told an overseas business seminar that the odds are two-to-one against a U.S. recession. That's according to a person who attended the event. Greenspan's comment echoes similar remarks he has made in recent months about the chance of a recession. Greenspan was speaking via videoconference to the seminar in Singapore. The former chief central banker also played down the chance of another Asian financial crisis similar to 1997, saying the risk was almost nonexistent.


Marathon Petroleum has filed a countersuit against Kentucky in response to being sued by the state for alleged price gouging. Kentucky officials sued Marathon--accusing the fuel supplier of violating state price gouging laws after 2005's Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Marathon responded by filing suit in federal court asking that Kentucky's price-gouging law be declared unconstitutional. Angelia Graves with Marathon says the company did nothing wrong. Marathon is a wholly owned subsidiary of Houston-based Marathon Oil Corporation. In Kentucky, retail prices jumped by as much as 70 cents per gallon in the days following Hurricane Katrina.


Shares of Lyondell Chemical rose after billionaire Leonard Blavatnik disclosed he's buying 8.3 percent of the company. Blavatnik says a subsidiary of his access industries has bought the rights to 21 million shares. Blavatnik's company says it may acquire more shares depending on the outlook for Houston-based Lyondell and the chemical industry. Blavatnik is picking up shares owned by Occidental Petroleum.


You only have through tomorrow to mail letters and parcels for 39 cents. Beginning Monday, the rate increases to 41 cents. Because most post offices are closed Sunday, officials with the U.S. Postal Service say items dropped in a box that won't be collected until Monday should have the higher postage on them. However, the agency doesn't plan a rash of returns for insufficient postage. And you can always buy "forever'' stamps that remain valid regardless of any future increases. The first forever stamps are selling for 41 cents each. And people sending heavier letters--such as wedding invitations--will see a reduction in the price. That's because each additional ounce will cost just 17 cents, down from the current 24 cents.


Governor Rick Perry has appointed five regents to guide embattled Texas Southern University. The school in Houston is going through financial and management problems. Fired TSU President Priscilla Slade faces trial in August on two counts of criminally misusing university money for her private benefit. All nine regents quit this month as Perry sought to put the historically black school under a conservator. If the five new regents are confirmed by the Senate, TSU will have enough regents to avoid running afoul of accreditation rules while the legislature works on a restructuring plan. The five are: Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe of Austin; ex-legislator Glenn Lewis of Fort Worth, who chaired Perry's TSU advisory panel; Richard Holland of Plano, who's president and founder of the management consulting firm Holland Advisors; Enrique Javier Loya, who's chairman and CEO of Houston-based Choice Energy; and Richard Salwen of Austin, who's a former vice president and general counsel with Dell. Also, law school student Larry Taylor of Farris was named a student regent.


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has been elected to the board of Tenet Healthcare. Tenet's struggling Florida hospitals have become a drag on company profits. Bush tried to tackle rising Medicaid spending as governor of Florida. The 54-year-old younger brother of President Bush says he doesn't have any specific assignments on behalf of the Dallas-based company. Jeb Bush, who left office in January after two terms, says Tenet could join the debate over changing the way government health plans pay hospitals. Tenet directors--other than the chairman--were paid fees of nearly $98,000 to more than $129,000 last year. Bush will also get restricted stock worth $260,000.


Baker Hughes in Houston reports the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. dropped by seven this week--to hit 1,740. One year ago the rig count stood at 1,503. Texas lost 12 rigs.


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