Thursday PM November 8th, 2007

Valero refinery explosion in Port Arthur reduces plant output; refinery expansion planned for New Orleans...Federal Reserve Chairman looks for economy to slow in the coming months...

An early-morning explosion at the Valero Energy Port Arthur refinery prompted an emergency shutdown of a unit that removes sulfur from hydrocarbons this morning. A Valero spokesman said no injuries resulted, and all employees are accounted for. A fire in a heater in the diesel hydrotreater was said to be under control by mid-morning. First reports indicate a power outage may have sparked the fire. Power was out in some areas of the plant, but most process units are in operation. Valero emergency response officials have monitored air quality and say there's no indication of any concerns.

Valero Energy says it'll spend $1.4 billion on a major refinery expansion near New Orleans. The San Antonio-based refinery says the project will increase both gasoline and diesel production at the Norco, Louisiana, plant. Approval of the plan by Valero's board was announced. The project is one of the largest capital projects in Valero's history. Its aim is to boost production of ultra low sulfur diesel fuel to meet new federal environmental standards in the United States. A Valero spokesman says about 1,500 people will be employed for about two years during construction. The additional production will add at least 30 permanent jobs to the refinery's current payroll of 600. Valero owns and operates 17 refineries in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean that have a total output of 3.1 million barrels a day. The company also has 5,800 retail and wholesale fuel outlets.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says he looks for the economy to slow in the coming months. His testimony before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress gives no specific guidance suggesting that the Fed will cut rates further. It has trimmed rates twice in two months, in the wake of the credit crunch. The Fed's next policy-setting session is scheduled for December 11th.

The Federal Reserve says consumer borrowing increased in September at the smallest pace in five months. Growth in credit card debt and car loans slowed. The Federal Reserve reported Wednesday that consumer credit rose at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in September. That's about half the gain that economists had expected. The sluggish growth reflected lower rates of increase for auto loans and credit card debt. That debt had risen sharply in recent months as consumers started borrowing more heavily on their credit cards once home refinancings slowed.

Tags: News


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