Wednesday PM September 12th, 2007

BP Texas City explosion trial continues in Galveston...Shell Oil president discusses diversity at Houston Minority Business Council expo...U.S Senate votes to ban Mexican trucks from U.S. roadways...

A company official says upgrading technology and replacing equipment could have minimized or even prevented the deadly 2005 BP explosion. Jurors in Galveston saw a videotaped deposition in the civil case brought by four workers who say they hurt in the blast in Texas City. Fifteen people were killed, while about 170 were injured. Paul Maslin is BP's Technology Vice President for Refining. He talked about how safety could have been improved. Maslin said much of the computer technology in Texas City was from the 1980s and needed to be updated. He also the refinery should have had technology that could have automatically shut down systems in an emergency. Maslin also said he disagreed with BP when in 1999 or 2000, it called for a 25 percent budget cut throughout the company. At the time, Maslin was working at BP's Coryton Refinery in England.

Alaska officials are demanding that BP explain four recent fires at its North Slope oil production facilities. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin calls the fires "above and beyond anything that is acceptable.'' All have occurred in the last 34 days--the most recent Monday. No injuries have been reported. Resources Commissioner Tom Irwin says BP's recent history "hasn't been too good'' and the state wants to know "what's going on.'' The state fire marshal and two other investigators are headed to the site. A BP spokesman says the fires are separate events and not part of a pattern. He says the fires are "regrettable,'' but the company has what he calls a "sophisticated, multilayered safety system in place.'' Last year, more than 200,000 gallons of oil leaked at the Prudhoe Bay field due to corrosion. Five months later, after another leak, BP was forced to partially shut down the nation's largest oil field. BP operates the field for itself, Houston-based ConocoPhillips and Irving-based ExxonMobil. The British oil giant has been beset with problems in North America for nearly two years. An explosion in 2005 at BP's Texas City refinery killed 15 people and injured more than 170 others.

BP and Clipper Windpower will soon begin construction of their first wind power project in Texas. The $100 million Silver Star I Wind Farm about 80 miles southwest of Dallas will have a 60-megawatt capacity, according to BP Alternative Energy.

Corporate investment in supplier diversity has a clear business benefit, according to Shell Oil President John Hofmeister. He's Corporate co-chair of this year's Houston Minority Business Council 2007 Expo at the George R. Brown Convention Center, along with Wayne McConnell from McConnell, Jones, Lanier and Murphy. Hofmeister says the energy sector has been supportive of diversity.

"I think a walk through the showroom today is a lesson in how widespread this is. More than 230 companies arrived today to have a booth to connect with Minority Business Enterprise opportunities. And these are big-name companies. Shell happens to be one of those big-name companies, but I think west of the Mississippi, this is one of the largest, if not the largest Minority Business Enterprise expos that you'll find in the United States west of the Mississippi. I think it is widespread across the country that for the good of large companies, the supply chain to keep these large companies moving forward is becoming increasingly a minority business enterprise."

Hofmeister says diversity is not just another item on lists of business objectives, but a business imperative that enables corporations to accomplish its objectives. Shell Oil has been recognized for not only seeking out minority and women-owned businesses as suppliers, but working with its major suppliers to enhance their supplier diversity.

The U.S Senate has voted to ban Mexican trucks from U.S. roadways. That could rekindle a more than decade-old trade dispute with Mexico. The 74-to-24 vote approves prohibiting the Transportation Department from spending money on a NAFTA pilot program to allow Mexican trucks greater access to U.S. highways. The proposal is part of a $106 billion Transportation and Housing spending bill that the Senate hopes to vote on later this week. The House approved a similar provision in July as part of its version of the Transportation Spending Bill. Texas Republican John Cornyn proposed allowing the program to continue--but would have required every truck to be checked for every border crossing. His proposal failed, and the Senate adopted the ban proposed by North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan. Fellow Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison joined Cornyn in voting against the amendment and for the Cornyn amendment. Until last week, Mexican trucks were restricted to driving within a commercial border zone that stretched about 20 miles from the U.S.-Mexican boundary, 75 miles in Arizona. One truck has traveled deep into the U.S. interior as part of the pilot program. The ban would help Democrats curry favor with organized labor, an important ally for the 2008 presidential elections. But Cornyn says the ban trucks appears to be about limiting competition and may amount to discrimination against Mexico.

The transportation spending bill passed by the U.S. Senate includes a ban on tolls on existing Texas roadways. The ban is attached to the $106 billion spending bill approved by the Senate, 88-7. The bill also includes an amendment banning Mexican trucks from U.S. roadways. The toll ban amendment authored by Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison is in addition to a two-year moratorium imposed on construction of new toll roads by the legislature during this year's session. Building new toll roads or lanes in Texas would not be prohibited by the amendment. The Senate bill now heads to conference committee to be reconciled with the house version. President Bush has threatened to veto the final bill because of its cost.

More than 60 Hispanic taco truck owners in Houston have filed a lawsuit challenging new state legislation setting up more strict rules for mobile food vendors. The say the rules are motivated by racial bias more than food safety. The two new state laws apply to Houston and surrounding Harris County. They include daily inspections of mobile food vendors and the display of a property owners' notarized permission to operate on a site. The Houston City Council is scheduled to vote on incorporating the new laws into existing city health regulations. State Representative Dwayne Bohac, a co-author the legislation, says the new laws have nothing to do with race and are meant to protect public health and safety. A federal judge last week rejected the vendors' request for an injunction to block the new state laws.

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