Wednesday December 19th, 2007

BP Texas City civil trial settled out of court for undetermined sum...Houston home sales drop again in November...Deutsche Bank to pay Enron creditors $25 million to settle lawsuit...

Terms of the settlement reached in the second civil trial involving injuries in the deadly 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery weren't disclosed. The fiery blast killed 15 people and injured about 170. The eight plaintiffs said they were relieved the trial in Galveston ended early yesterday, but were glad they got the chance to testify. BP also settled in the midst of a September civil trial involving four injured workers. A month later, the oil giant agreed to plead guilty to a federal environmental crime, pay a $50 million fine and serve three years on probation to settle a Justice Department blast probe.

BP has completed commissioning of the Atlantis semi-submersible platform in deepwater Gulf of Mexico, 150 miles south of New Orleans, starting oil and gas exporting from the deepest moored floating oil and gas production facility in the world. Additional wells will continue to brought on stream. BP is operator of Atlantis with 56 percent ownership, and BHP Billiton has a 44 percent working interest.

Homes sales in Houston dropped again in November, with single-family home sales falling nine percent. According to the Houston Association of Realtors, pending sales were down 5.7 percent at the end of November. But the median price of homes rose 1.7 percent to $150,000 in November. Total property sales for November registered 5,772—a ten percent decline compared to the same month last year. Homes priced between $80,000 and $150,000 took the biggest hit last month, with sales down 16.9 percent compared with last year. That segments represents 38 percent of Houston's housing market.

Deutsche Bank has agreed to pay creditors of Enron $25 million to settle a lawsuit related to transactions between the firms. The Enron Creditors Recovery Corporation said Deutsche Bank would get $35 million for its remaining interests in three transactions. The bank gives up $416 million in claims against Enron as part of the deal.

Calling it a major step toward energy independence, President Push has signed legislation that will bring more fuel-efficient vehicles into showrooms. The president signed the bill at a ceremony at the Energy Department this morning. The legislation requires automakers to increase fuel efficiency by 40 percent to an industry average 35 miles per gallon by 2020. It also ramps up production of ethanol to 36 billion gallons a year by 2022. Bush says the new requirements will help reduce U.S. dependency on foreign oil by reducing demand for gasoline and diversifying the nation's fuel supply. The House overwhelmingly passed the energy bill after the Senate cleared it last week. The original legislation included $21 billion in taxes, which were dropped to get the bill approved.

The House is set to vote on a measure that would protect taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax. The tax was created in 1969 to make sure that a small group of very rich people were not able to avoid paying taxes. But the tax was never adjusted for inflation, and each year more middle-income earners are hit by it. Without a fix, the number of taxpayers hit by it this tax season could grow from four million to 25 million. The one-year fix to the amt has been hung up by differences between the House and Senate. House Democrats have insisted the relief--estimated to cost about $50 billion--be paid for by closing some tax loopholes. But Senate Republicans have blocked the Senate from taking up legislation that includes a tax increase. The House will now consider the Senate version, which shields taxpayers but doesn't cover the cost.

A House committee has opened a hearing on a woman's allegations that she was raped and detained while working in Iraq for a contractor. Jamie Leigh Jones was in the House hearing room along with a second woman, Tracy Lee Barker, to tell their stories. Jones, who used to live in Conroe, says she was raped by her colleagues and held against her will while working for KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton and a large contractor in Iraq. Several members of Congress have criticized the Justice Department and other agencies in the case. They say the agencies failed Jones by not properly investigating her claims. The Associated Press does not normally name victims of sexual assault, but these women have allowed their names to be broadcast and published.

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