Wednesday AM May 21st, 2008

Inflation at the wholesale level slowed in April following a huge increase in March although prices for a number of items from prescription drugs to pasta shot upward. The Labor Department reported Tuesday that wholesale inflation edged up by 0.2 percent in April following a 1.1 percent jump in March. Outside of food and energy, prices rose by a faster 0.4 percent. The moderation in overall price gains primarily reflected how the government adjusts its data to compensate for seasonal changes. Those adjustments showed gasoline prices falling last month even though motorists were seeing prices soar.


The Society of Professional Engineers is holding its Gulf Coast Conference and Exhibition at the Marriott Westchase. Chevron Vice President Don Paul helped to organize the digital conference, showcasing the intersection of computing technology and the oil and gas production business. Deepwater drilling has pushed the envelope.

"There's a number of key drivers. First and foremost, producing energy is one of the most important endeavors the whole world is engaged in right now. And getting more resources, reserves, production is priority number one. Information technology allows us to raise productivity." Ed: "And of course Chevron has been investing lost of money in that direction." "We and everyone else. I think that one of the unique aspects of the oil and gas industry around digital technology is how deep and rich and diverse the technology providers are, and this technology is available, in effect, to operators of all size in the industry."

A lot of recent IT improvements in oil and gas have been in visualization. New techniques are helping engineers to see more clearly beneath the earth's surface.

"Every time computers get faster, people are able to embed more physics in the seismic imaging technology. The amount of data volume has grown enormously, and so making decisions around that data requires an interface—much more complex and visual interfaces—in order to deal with all this data." Ed: "What do you hope people take away from this?" "Producers look at the opportunities--how do they continue to raise their digital intensity and increase their productivity, whether that's operating expense or liability or coverage factors, capital investments. For the suppliers, I think the opportunity to hear from the users of the technology--what are the challenges and what are the opportunities in front of you. I think the broad IT community is to look at data management. The data volumes that we're managing today are truly enormous and quite frankly, we're just at the beginning."

Don Paul says Chevron and others continue to improve efficiency as the largest available resource for energy security.


The House has passed a bill that would authorize the Justice Department to pursue energy antitrust and price fixing cases against members of the OPEC oil cartel. Critics say such attempts will likely be fruitless and could prompt a backlash from oil producers. The bill, approved 324-84 on Tuesday, also would create a special Justice Department task force to investigate energy markets in an attempt to root out manipulation and unwarranted speculation. Similar measures are part of a package of Democratic energy proposals being considered in the Senate. The House passed a similar bill targeting OPEC last year and the Senate embraced it, only to see the provision subsequently taken out of the legislation. The bill passed Tuesday would remove a specific prohibition now against pursuing antitrust actions against a sovereign country.


A key Senate panel has approved a homeowner rescue plan to give cheaper, government-backed mortgages to up to 500,000 strapped borrowers. Eight Republicans joined Democrats on the Senate Banking Committee to advance the housing rescue package. It also includes tougher regulations for government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The bill would let the Federal Housing Administration back up to $300 billion in new loans for struggling homeowners who would otherwise be considered too financially risky to access a fixed-rate, government-insured mortgage. Under a key concession to Republicans, the FHA rescue would be financed by Fannie and Freddie profits, by temporarily diverting a fund to provide housing for the poor.


The Energy Department reports that carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.6 percent last year with most coming from residential and commercial energy use. Emissions from transportation and industrial sources were essentially flat, compared to 2006. The increases came from a greater demand for heating and cooling because of weather. Carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas linked to global warming, declined in 2006, also because of weather-related circumstances. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are proposing $800 billion in tax reductions over more than three decades to help pay energy costs under a revised global warming bill. The proposal is aimed at blunting Republican criticism that the climate legislation is too costly and will harm average Americans. The legislation, scheduled for debate on the Senate floor next month, would cut greenhouse gas pollution by 71 percent by 2050.


Figures show payrolls at U.S. airlines grew in March--for the 14th straight time--compared with year-ago levels. The Transportation Department says the tally dropped from the prior month and more layoffs may be in store as carriers explore mergers and deal with record fuel prices. U.S. passenger airlines employed about 414,800 workers in March--1.6 percent more than the same month in 2007, but down from February's tally of 418,300. Delta Air Lines--which plans to combine with Northwest Airlines--led the pack with a 7.1 percent increase in March, followed by Alaska Airlines at 5.7 percent and Houston-based Continental Airlines at four percent. Fort Worth-based American Airlines employed the most workers among network carriers in March--topping 73,000. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines led the low-cost carriers, with nearly 34,000 workers.


The Bush administration says the increased use of biofuel is not eating into food supplies as much as detractors say. Some blame the spike in food prices on White House-backed policies that divert corn, soybeans and other crops to fuel. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer says the increased use of biofuels may have some small, short-term costs. But he says they don't outweigh the benefits of reducing the country's dependence on oil. Corn prices have grown dramatically in recent years, almost tripling since 2005. White House economic advisers say ethanol is responsible for just two to three3 percent of the global jump in food prices. Some lawmakers say it's still too much and are looking for ways to rollback energy legislation promoting biofuels.


Consumers aren't the only ones dipping into their rainy day funds. Across the country, lawmakers are debating whether times are tough enough to open emergency funds. Arizona lawmakers have depleted their rainy day fund by two-thirds because of a $1.2 billion shortfall this fiscal year. And after a partisan tussle, Virginia decided to spend about 350 million of its emergency money. States generally try to maintain reserves of at least five percent of their budgets to protect their credit rating. Still, officials are usually more willing to drain rainy day funds that the politically unpopular solutions of cutting health care programs, school funding, or raising taxes. States are facing some dire economic times. Earlier this month, the Rockefeller Institute of Government reported that state sales tax revenue delivered the weakest performance in six years during the first quarter of 2008.


A top World Bank official says the bank won't give financial aid or a loan to cyclone-hit Myanmar because of its outstanding debts. The managing director says the World Bank is working with southeast Asian countries by providing technical support to assess damages in Myanmar and help plan rehabilitation efforts. But he says it is "not in a position" to provide financial resources to Myanmar because the military-ruled nation has been in arrears with the World Bank since 1998. His comments come ahead of an aid donors' conference in Yangon on Sunday to pledge funds for Myanmar. The country has said that losses from the recent cyclone exceed $10 billion.


Four employees of a Texas-based check-cashing company say they were fired after being robbed at gunpoint in the company's stores. They filed suit in Denver district court claiming Dallas-based Ace Cash Express fired them for not following safety procedures during robberies at three Denver stores between November and January. The lawsuit says the robbers threatened to kill the employees if they had followed a company directive to trigger an alarm. They also say the company had trained them to cooperate with robbers if they were held up, and not risk their lives. Ace has denied wrongdoing and said it will fight the lawsuit. The plaintiffs are Ruth Monica Perea, Felicia A. Dia, Desiree M. Lopez and Andre A. Robledo.


Chrysler is extending for another month its offer to subsidize customers' gasoline prices for three years. The deal caps gas at $2.99 per gallon with Chrysler paying the rest. It was to expire early next month, but it is now to go through July 7th. Chrysler says the deal is popular with consumers and has increased traffic to its Web site by 25 percent. The offer from the maker of Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles includes most models. It"s based on 12,000 miles of driving per year and the vehicle's government fuel economy rating. People who buy or lease eligible vehicles can pick between the gas subsidy, cash rebates or zero percent financing. On some vehicles, customers can get rebates and the gas subsidy.


Napster has begun selling mp3s--a move theonline music service hopes will lure iPod users and turn around Napster's sliding fortunes. The company is the latest to make the switch to the unrestricted file format, which makes it music tracks compatible with virtually any music player or other device. Tracks downloaded as part of Napster's subscription service willstill have copyright restrictions. For much of the decade, major record labels refused to license their music for downloading as mp3s. But steep annual declines in CD sales and the growing dominance of Apple's iPod music players and its iTunes music store led the labels to ease that position last year to remain competitive. Amazon.com is the only other retailer offering mp3 downloads from all the major record labels.


A federal appeals court says paper money discriminates against blind people. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit has upheld a ruling that could force the U.S. to redesign its money so blind people can distinguish between values. Such changes could include making bills different sizes, including raised markings or printing oversized numbers for people who see poorly. The appeals court ruled two-to-one on Tuesday that the U.S. didn't explain why such changes would be an unreasonable burden, especially since many other countries have done so.


 

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