Wednesday AM October 3rd, 2007

Houston companies contract for refinery projects in Alabama, Ohio and Cote d'Ivoire...Louisiana firm to be awarded tracts for developing wind power in Gulf of Mexico...American Express survey indicates companies have adjusted to energy price fluctuations, but still have economic concerns...

Chicago Bridge & Iron has won a $160 million contract for a refinery expansion project in Alabama, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Woodlands-based engineering company will complete the project in the first quarter of 2009. The plant will use CB&I's proprietary Hyforming hydrogen technology.

Houston-based Energy Allied International and WCW International of Houston will work with the national oil company of Cote d'Ivoire to build, own and operate a crude oil refining and storage facility in Abidjan. The companies will jointly develop the $1.4 billion facility in the former Ivory Coast, which will produce gasoline, jet fuel, diesel oil and butane for West African markets.

Houston-based AMEC Paragon has been awarded an engineering and procurement contract by Baard Energy for the front-end engineering and design phase of the $5 billion Ohio River Clean Fuels project. The facility is expected to produce jet and diesel fuel from biomass, coal and other feedstocks. The new facilities will capture at least 80 percent of the carbon dioxide produced during refining.

The Texas General Land Office has announced a Louisiana company will be awarded four tracts for developing wind power in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the first lease sold under a competitive bid process, although Wind Energy Systems Technologies was the only bidder. The company is building a wind farm off of Galveston. Two other offshore wind farm leases were previously awarded by the State of Texas, but not through competitive bidding. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson says he decided to treat the wind farm leases like an oil or gas lease sale and allow the market to place a value on the tracts.

KBR's upstream unit has been awarded a $10 million contract by Cairo, Egypt-based North Alamein Petroleum to work on its Mediterranean Sea reserves, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Houston firm will provide front-end engineering design support in the six-month project from its Cairo office and its Leatherhead office in the United Kingdom.

The government has taken a major step to ease future blackouts by designating specific areas as critical to the nation's energy grid. It's seen as a step toward construction of new power lines in ten southwest and mid-Atlantic states. Officials who've been briefed on the boundaries described them to the Associated Press, while the Energy Department outlined its decision on the finalized corridors to Congressional offices. The only real change from the original plan is that Nevada was dropped from the southwest corridor. The finalized mid-Atlantic corridor runs from Virginia, Washington and much of Maryland, and also includes all of New Jersey and Delaware, along with large sections of New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The southwest corridor is composed of seven counties in southern California and three in Arizona.

Houston waste company WCA Waste Corporation has acquired five waste companies in Texas and three other states. The purchases include Waste Pro Services in Houston, which operates 17 routes.

Residents of Southampton and Boulevard Oaks have hired Houston trial lawyer Rusty Hardin to help in their opposition to a 23-story high-rise proposed for the corner of Bissonnet and Ashby, according to the Houston Business Journal. Houston-based Buckhead Investment Partners plans to develop the residential tower on a site currently home to the Maryland Manor Apartments. Opponents say the structure would tower over single-family homes and worsen traffic congestion.

A group of 80 Houston physiciansξis teaming with Dallas-based Christus Health Partners to build a new hospital near Bush Intercontinental Airport. The 56-bed general acute care hospital, midway between I-45 and Highway 59, is slated to open in the fall of 2009. BPR Investment Properties of San Antonio and Fort Worth will develop and own the $75 million hospital on land BPR owns.

Belgian oil and gas company VRcontext has opened an office in Houston as its American headquarters. The Houston office will act as a subsidiary to VRcontext, focusing on oil and gas clients.

Heartland Oil and Gas has completed its headquarters move to Houston from Denver, according to the Houston Business Journal. The firm is consolidating the administration of the exploration and production operations of Universal Property Development and Acquisition into a single Houston location.

A semi-annual survey of small business owners reveals uncertainty in hiring, retirement and cash flow. The American Express Small Business Monitor indicates small business owners have adjusted to energy price fluctuations, but are still concerned about the economy. Business owners plan to make capital investments, but fewer are reporting plans to hire in the next six months—some 31 percent contemplate hiring, compared to 34 percent in the fall of 2006. Half of business owners believe rising interest rates have negatively impacted their business, and the downturn in the housing market is also impacting business. The national survey sampled 627 small business owners and managers of companies with fewer than 100 employees.

A Houston Web site and toll-free phone number has been launched to offer up-to-the-minute arrival and departure status of airline flights, as well as terminal and gate information. 1-800-Flights tracks flights on 141 airlines through 432 domestic and 173 international airports.

A two-for-one stock dividend split has been approved by the board of Cameron International, according to the Houston Business Journal. The split is subject to stockholder approval on December 7th of a proposed amendment that authorizes an increase in the amount of common stock being issued.

Houston-based Noble Energy will replace Archstone-Smith Trust in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index. The change will take place after the close of trading on Friday. Archstone-Smith is being bought by Tishman Speyer Properties and Lehman Brothers Holdings.

Dean Foods says record high milk prices are cutting into profits. So the nation's largest dairy producer announced that it plans to cut 600 to 700 jobs. The Dallas-based company also lowered its profit expectations for the third quarter and all of 2007. Dean expects to take a restructuring charge in the third quarter for the job cuts, but it didn't provide a dollar figure. Chairman and Chief Executive Gregg Engles said high dairy commodity costs have created the most difficult challenges the company has ever faced. Dean officials say they'll immediately begin a "voluntary'' program of cutting jobs, followed by an involuntary reduction if needed. They say the reductions would be complete by the end of October.

Residents of a neighborhood on Austin's east side are celebrating the closure of a power plant that's been the subject of complaints for decades. Austin Energy retired the Holly power plant shortly before midnight Sunday. Residents of the predominantly Hispanic neighborhood marked the moment with a candlelight vigil, including prayers and a countdown. The four-unit power plant was built between 1960 and 1974. Its neighbors have long complained about the noise and health concerns related to the plant. The Austin City Council set a goal in the early 1990s of closing the plant as soon as was practical. City officials say they plan to develop a park at the Holly site, which sits adjacent to Lady Bird Lake.

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