Wednesday PM June 20th, 2007

Enron figure pays SEC fine...American Petroleum Institute develops refinery standards to protect workers...KBR opens office in Nigeria for projects in that region...

Former Enron financial executive Jeffrey McMahon has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle allegations that he helped the company commit fraud. Details were announced in Washington by the Securities and Exchange Commission. McMahon, who neither admitted nor denied the allegations, also agreed to be barred from acting as an officer or director of a public company for five years. The agreement is subject to the approval of a federal judge.


An oil industry trade group says it's developed standards to better protect refinery workers. The new American Petroleum Institute standards come in response to the March 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery, which killed 15 people and injured more than 170. The new standards to be published Thursday aim to meet demands of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. The federal board made an "urgent'' recommendation in October 2005, requiring refineries to limit how close workers' portable trailers can be placed to potentially hazardous operations. The CSB says it's encouraged by the API's enhanced standards, but still awaits a formal response to its own recommendations. The voluntary standards for refiners--such as San Antonio-based Valero Energy and Irving-based ExxonMobil--establish three 'blast zones'' in which portable buildings could be placed. Those zones would depend on building size and construction material. For example, small trailers made of light wood wouldn't be allowed within 330 feet of a potentially dangerous area.


A proposal to hit oil companies with $29 billion in new taxes will be added to energy legislation being considered by the Senate. The bill would funnel about $11 billion over ten years into the development of renewable fuels such as ethanol, biodiesel and power from wind turbines in a combination of extensions of existing tax breaks and new tax benefits. An additional $18 billion in tax breaks, from tax credits to clean and renewable energy bonds, also were approved. To pay for the reductions in revenue, the legislation targets the large oil companies, either ending a number of tax benefits or imposing new taxes. The measure would extend and increase taxes paid under an oil spill liability law and eliminate existing tax credits involving foreign oil production.


Some good news for drivers hoping for more relief at the pump. Gasoline and oil futures have dropped after the government reported larger-than-expected increases in crude oil and gasoline supplies. The contract for light, sweet crude for July delivery was down more than $1 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. AAA, meanwhile, says the average price for unleaded gasoline has dropped below $3 per gallon, to $2.99 nationally.


KBR has opened an office in Lagos, Nigeria, to support projects in that region. According to its Web site, the Houston-based engineering, construction and services company is working with Japan-based JGC Corporation, Paris-based Technip and Italy-based Snamprogetti on an engineering and design contract for the Nigeria Liquified Gas SevenPlus project. The NLGS project is a partnership of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, Shell Oil, Total and ENI. KBR has a 30-year history of working in Nigeria, with a continuing presence for the last 15 years, including ongoing work for the country's major LNG projects.


Amegy Bank is acquiring the San Antonio-based parent company of Intercontinental National Bank for an undisclosed sum. When the merger is completed in the third quarter, Intercontinental will merge into Houston-based Amegy.


Nexus Health Systems and Pennsylvania-based Select Medical Group have announced they have decided not to move ahead with Select's acquisition of Nexus Health, according to the Houston Business Journal. Houston-based Nexus says it will resume its system expansion plans with a groundbreaking at HealthBridge Children's Hospital Houston for an additional 16 beds for its West Chase facility. Nexus provides services for that facility, as well as Nexus specialty Hospital in Shenandoah, which has a satellite campus in The Woodlands. It also provides services for Touchstone Neurorecovery Center in Conroe and a children's hospital in Orange, California.


Cerberus Capital Management has gotten the green light to buy Chrysler for $7 billion. People close to the deal say federal antitrust regulators have cleared the Cerberus purchase of Chrysler, before the end of a standard 30-day review. Early termination of the Federal Trade Commission review suggests there will be no conditions placed on the deal. The early decision has been confirmed by two people close to the deal, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Private-equity firm Cerberus agreed last month to pay DaimlerChrysler $7.4 billion for 80.1 percent of its U.S. automotive operations. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.


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