Monday AM September 17th, 2007

ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips continue talks with Venezuelan government...China announces leukemia drug recall...BP executive blames six employees in March 2005 explosion for not following procedure...

Venezuela says it's prepared to face Irving-based ExxonMobil in arbitration to defend its nationalization of key oil projects. Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez tells the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal that his nation is "ready to face it.'' ExxonMobil announced last Wednesday that it would request arbitration over the nationalization of the Cerro Negro project. That's one of four heavy oil projects in which President Hugo Chavez's government assumed majority control in May. The oil fields and heavy crude upgrading plants in the Orinoco river basin were run for more than a decade under contract by six major international oil companies. ExxonMobil and Houston-based ConocoPhillips balked at the tougher terms. California-based Chevron, Britain's BP, France's Total and Norway's Statoil agreed to stay on as minority partners in new joint ventures controlled by state-run Petroleos de Venezuela. ConocoPhillips is still in negotiations on compensatory terms for its multibillion-dollar investment.

China's ongoing battle against tainted products has resulted in another recall. This time its leukemia drugs found to be contaminated with another anti-cancer drug. Some users have complained of leg pains and urinary problems. China's official Xinhua news agency reports that most of the tainted drugs have been recovered and authorities know where the rest are. Xinhua also says factories that made the drugs have been shut down. Chinese exports, including food, drugs and toys, have gotten a lot of attention lately because of potentially deadly problems. But China has also been eager to cast itself as a victim. The government news agency also reports that more than 18 tons of frozen pork kidney imported from the U.S. has been rejected because of a banned stimulant. A similar problem has been found in 24 tons of frozen pork ribs from Canada.

A BP refining executive told jurors in Galveston last Friday that the March 2005 explosion in Texas City that killed 15 would not have happened if six employees had followed procedure. But the international representative for the United Steelworkers Union testified that the union thought the six are unfairly blamed, blaming cost cuts and deferred maintenance. BP says it is spending $1 billion on repairs and upgrades at the refinery.

Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt, Jr., is telling politicians wanting to return their contributions from him, according to the Houston Business Journal, should donate them to the DeBakey Medical Foundation. Wyatt was indicted in 2005 on charges of paying kickbacks to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to win oil contracts. His trial is underway in New York.

Timely rains and warmer temperatures last month have Texas south plains cotton producers smiling. U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates put the state on pace for its third-largest crop ever. The USDA figures indicate a 15 percent increase in bales statewide to more than seven million since the agency's August report. The south plains are the world's largest cotton patch, and the weather there has helped fill cotton bolls, made them larger, and increased lint quantity inside the bolls. The region's forecast jumped from almost four million bales last month to 4.5 million bales in the USDA report. If realized, the state will produce 39 percent of the nation's anticipated 18 million bales. The estimated harvest would come in behind only 2005's 8.4 million bales and 2004's 7.8 million. The Texas figures rose because yield estimates jumped about 15 percent, increasing 91 pounds per acre to 715 pounds per acre. Also, survey data indicated bolls in Texas are the third heaviest in the past five years.

The Internet's most powerful company is taking the wraps off a proposal calling for global standards for protecting consumer privacy online and offline. Google unveiled its request in France. It comes as the online search leader battles privacy concerns that threaten its plan to buy Internet ad service Doubleclick for $3.1 billion. New York-based Doubleclick collects information about the Web surfing habits of consumers. And that's stirred complaints from privacy watchdogs and has prompted antitrust regulators to take a closer look at Google's proposed acquisition. Google already retains information about search requests, which can reveal intimate details about a person's health, finances, sexual preferences and other sensitive topics. Peter Fleischer, Google's chief privacy officer, says the company's privacy crusade has nothing to do with the Doubleclick deal.

Busy travelers know the discouragement of finding someplace in airports to recharge their blackberries, laptops and other battery-operated gadgets. So airports across the country are trying to bring precious energy more conveniently to millions of travelers wanting to stay in touch. It may not be as glamorous as wireless Internet access, but in a year of unprecedented airline delays and cancellations, free and easy electrical access helps make terminal time more productive and less stressful. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport initially charged travelers a few dollars to juice up. But DFW officials says it quickly became apparent that unlike wireless Internet, people weren't willing to pay for electricity So two freestanding "charging kiosks'' have been set up near the DFW's heavily used train system in Terminals A and B as the airport's most recent experiments. Each kiosk has four seating areas equipped with a small desk and an electrical outlet. In addition, the kiosks have ethernet plugs that tap into the facility's free Internet connection. At Dallas Love Field, Southwest Airlines is experimenting with charging stations at three gates. The airline has also been testing it at one gate in San Antonio for the past year. Bill Connors is executive director of the National Business Travel Association in Alexandria, Virginia. He says airports are pursuing lucrative business travelers with as many perks as possible.

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