Monday AM August 20th, 2007

Gulf rigs and platforms eye progress of Hurricane Dean...Milby High School forms Academy for Petroleum Exploration and Production Technology...Post-Katrina New Orleans job possibilities still bleak...

Oil companies have been watching the progress of Hurricane Dean since late last week, and production from some deepwater oil and natural gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in. Companies have been evacuating non-essential personnel on production platforms and drilling rigs. There are 834 manned platforms in the Gulf—structures that remain in the same location throughout a project's duration. Drilling rigs typically move from location to location. There currently are 102 drilling rigs in the Gulf. The Minerals Management Service says going into the weekend, only about 0.17 percent of oil production in the Gulf has been shut-in and about 0.1 percent of natural gas production has been affected. Shut-ins can be accomplished remotely, closing the safety valves below the surface of the ocean to prevent the release of oil and gas. During Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the valves completely closed production from wells, resulting in no major spills from the Outer Continental Shelf.

A new Academy for Petroleum Exploration and Production Technology is being formed at Milby High School to help prepare students for jobs in the oil industry. The Independent Petroleum Association of America gave the Houston Independent School District a $200,000 grant to fund the academy. The group's Doris Richardson says the oil industry is reaching out to help replace an aging workforce.

" The average age in the industry is now 54 years old, and as in any industry, it's very cyclic. And we're very excited. The whole point to this initiative is to expand our aging workforce. I've never seen a more significant win-win situation for both sides. And so we're very excited, and we know that the soon that we can educate our children about energy education—they're just not aware of all the opportunities that are available for them."

Milby is located in southeast Houston, near the ship channel and Pasadena refineries.

"The reason that we chose Milby, Ed, was we wanted to find a school with a very successful math and science core curriculum advance placement already in place. The other criteria that we looked at, we needed a principal with the leadership skills and the vision to take the time to lay the essential groundwork, and the commitment to this industry. When I saw the core curriculum at the Milby Science Institute, and then when I met the principal, Richard Barajas, I knew we had found our school, because he definitely has the leadership qualities that we were looking for. They already have the core curriculum in place and so what we're doing is adding additional, the fundamentals of petroleum and all the science, the geology, the geophysics, the engineering and all the information these students need so that they can move forward in their careers."

Through Milby's existing Magnet Science Institute, students have learned about the chemical processing side of the petroleum industry. Now they will be able to intensify their overall knowledge and experience in the petroleum industry, with the help of the industry itself.

"Every other Friday we're going to have a different person from the industry come in and to share their information and their particular career path with these students. So we're very excited about that. We've got a perfect collaboration between academia and the industry."

The curriculum will be formed over the year, and classes will begin in the fall of 2008.

A report from O'Connor & Associates indicates that the Houston retail real estate market continues to grow, despite sub-prime mortgage issues. The real estate market research firm's second-quarter 2007 Houston Retail Market Update shows occupancy is down slightly and rental rates are about two cents lower per square foot. But demand for retail space continues to be strong. O'Connor attributes the growth to Houston's comparatively affordable housing and population and job growth.

Louisiana had nearly as many companies by the start of 2007 as it did before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in 2005. But a new study finds that the New Orleans area and Cameron Parish--areas hard hit by the storms--are still hurting for jobs. The report was written by a Louisiana State University researcher for the Louisiana Recovery Authority. It found that New Orleans had lost more than one-fifth of its employers, and those companies remaining were smaller.

The Texas Employee Confidence Index, compiled by Spherion, has reached its highest level this year, increasing 3.9 points to 65.7 in July, according to the Houston Business Journal. The monthly survey reveals that more workers are confident about the job market and future of their current employer. Eighty-two percent of workers feel it's unlikely they will lose their jobs—an increase of 11 percentage points from June.

FMC Technologies has signed a $200 million deal to provide a subsea system to Australia's Woodside Burrup, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston-based firm says its system will be used for Australia's Pluto Project, about 118 miles northwest of Karratha offshore Western Australia. FMC Technologies will provide five subsea trees, related control and tie-in systems and two production manifolds. The system will be engineered and manufactured at FMC's facilities in Norway and Singapore.

Conroe-based Shumate Industries has agreed to acquire Stafford-based Sunbelt Machine Works for $14.5 million, according to the Houston Business Journal.

Rival Northwest Airlines could end up owning Midwest Air Group, which has agreed to sell to private equity firm TPG Capital. Twin cities-based Northwest is a passive investor in the deal with Fort Worth-based TPG. TPG partner Richard P. Schifter says in a conference call the firm may eventually want to cash out of the $450 million deal and Minneapolis-based Northwest could acquire Midwest outright. But Schifter cautions that could be several years out. The announcement ends months of back-and-forth between Milwaukee-based Midwest and Orlando-based Airtran Holdings. Airtran wanted to acquire the operator of regional Midwest Airlines. But Midwest announced late Thursday that it had spurned Airtran a final time and accepted TPG's cash offer.

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