Monday PM December 10th, 2007

Texan contractor one of three killed in Iraq bomb blast...Gasoline prices at the pump drop...Motiva Enterprises breaks ground for refinery expansion in Port Arthur...

Three men--including a Texan--working in Iraq as contractors for an Alabama-based military operation have died in a bombing. Authorities say an improvised explosive struck their vehicle Sunday. The men worked as security specialists for Tetra Tech EC of Morris Plains, New Jersey. They were part of the Coalitions Munitions Clearance Program, which is responsible for disposing of captured ammunitions in Iraq. The military identified the victims as: 36-year-old Steven Evrard of Arlington, Texas; 32-year-old Micah Shaw of Vancouver, Washington, and 35-year-old Michael Doheny of Omaha, Nebraska. A fourth contractor is listed in serious but stable condition, but officials didn't immediately release his name. The army says the attack is under investigation.


The national average price for gasoline is going down. According to the latest Lundberg Survey, it dropped about nine cents over the last three weeks. The average price of regular gasoline nationwide on Friday was $3 a gallon, mid-grade was $3.12, and premium was $3.24. Oil industry analyst Trilby Lundberg says the nation's lowest price was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where a gallon of regular cost $2.74 on average. The highest was in San Francisco at $3.42.


Motiva refineryMotiva Enterprises has broken ground for its 325,000 barrel-per-day refinery expansion in Port Arthur. The expansion increases the refinery's crude oil capacity to 600,000 barrels-per-day, making it the largest refinery in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The upgrade will also decrease the refinery's emissions from present day levels. Motiva President and CEO William Welte says the expansion is equivalent to building a new refinery. There have been no new refineries built in the U.S. in more than 30 years. U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas says it's an important example of what America should do to strengthen energy security and lower prices at the gas pump. The new capacity is expected to be online in 2010. The expansion is projected to generate more than 4,500 construction jobs and at least 300 new full-time jobs upon completion. Houston-based Motiva Enterprises is a refining and marketing joint venture owned by affiliates of Shell and Saudi Aramco.


A real estate agents trade group says it thinks the housing market is on the verge of stabilizing. The National Association of Realtors is lifting its outlook for this year and next. It calls for U.S. existing home sales to drop 12.5 percent this year to the lowest level since 2002. The group calls for sales to rise slightly in 2008. The realtors say the median price for U.S. existing homes will drop 1.9 percent this year and then rise 0.3 percent next year.


A decrease in unemployment insurance tax rates will save money for some employers in 2008, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Low unemployment rates have caused a surplus in the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund. The minimum tax rate will be 0.22 percent, down from 0.29 percent in 2007. Texas employers pay 62 percent of that rate.


Caterers, hair stylists, set decorators and other Hollywood employees are feeling the pinch. This is the sixth week of a strike for Hollywood writers. Hundreds of out-of-work people and their supporters marched down Hollywood Boulevard Sunday. They demanded the two sides return to the bargaining table after negotiations degenerated into finger-pointing on Friday. One script supervisor says the holidays are going "to be bleak for a lot of families.''


The curtain has officially come down on the Broadway stagehands strike. The stagehands Sunday approved a new contract with producers, nearly two weeks after the end of a walkout that shut down more than two dozen shows. A union spokesman declined to give an exact tally, but said the approval was "overwhelming.'' The strike ended November 28th, with productions reopening the following day. The walkout occurred during what is normally one of the best times of the year for Broadway.


One of five public hearings across the Gulf region is set for this evening at the Hilton at Hobby Airport for public input on a proposed Gulf of Mexico offshore aquaculture plan. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council's Generic Offshore Aquaculture Amendment would allow open ocean growing of fish in nets or cages between three and 200 miles from shore.


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