Wednesday June 8th, 2005

BP said to be close to settling some lawsuits from March 23rd Texas City refinery explosion…Globeleq expands Tanzania power station in mission to bring electricity to Third World… BP is close to settling many of the lawsuits spawned by the deadly March 23rd explosion at its Texas City refinery. Fifteen people died and more than […]

BP said to be close to settling some lawsuits from March 23rd Texas City refinery explosion…Globeleq expands Tanzania power station in mission to bring electricity to Third World…

BP is close to settling many of the lawsuits spawned by the deadly March 23rd explosion at its Texas City refinery. Fifteen people died and more than 170 were injured in the explosion. At least three people are still hospitalized. Attorneys involved in the cases say they wouldn’t disclose the amounts of the settlements–but they described them as substantial. They say BP’s willingness to settle so soon is unusual. Houston attorney Joseph Jamail and others say they expect settlements to be signed with BP within the next week or two. BP spokesman Hugh Depland declined to comment. Meanwhile, BP faces allegations that management ignored warnings of unsafe conditions for years.

A natural gas fire that exploded near Lake Houston almost a week ago has reignited. Sand had plugged the walls to the drill hole several times, extinguishing the fire. But the well flared again yesterday morning. Authorities say natural gas has also seeped through cracks in the ground, causing about two dozen small fires within 250 feet of the main drill hole. The well’s owner–Shreveport-based Louisiana Gas Development Corporation–says workers have abandoned efforts to cap the well. The company plans to drill a relief well–then pump mud into the old shaft to smother the fire.

The Texas PetroIndex increased 18 percent during the first part of this year over the first six months of last year. The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers says oil industry employment continues to show strength, growing nine percent in the past year. The Texas PetroIndex looks at 25 oil industry economic indicators.

Houston-based Globeleq has completed a 50 percent expansion of its Ubungo power station in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The facility now generates 35 percent of the country’s energy requirements. Globeleq focuses on generating power in the emerging markets of Africa, the Americas and Asia, and the company’s Bob Hart sees it as a mission.

Bob Hart audio 1

Globeleq has 21 power generating plants in 16 countries. When a new project is developed in one of these countries, negotiations are handled at the top levels of government.

Bob Hart audio 2

Hart says the generation of electricity in developing countries is best left to private enterprise.

Bob Hart audio 3

Hart says that it is in everyone’s interest that poorer countries are connected to the rest of the world.

Bob Hart audio 4

Hart says Globeleq is proving that it can make an acceptable rate of return for its investors by building power plants in Third World countries.

The Houston Airport System and the National Airports Authority of Senegal have signed a cooperation agreement. The systems agree to share information on airport management and operations. Senegal is located on the west African coast and has the closest African airport to Houston. The Houston Airport System said in a statement that Senegal could be a popular destination from Houston because of potential growth in its offshore oil exploration region. The deal is one of six between the Houston Airport System and African nations. Others with similar accords are Ghana, Togo, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Angola.

A flight-sharing partner has approached Southwest Airlines about operating international flights. The chief executive of the Dallas-based low-fare carrier says Southwest hasn’t decided whether to jump into overseas routes. But Gary Kelly says international code-sharing is something the airline “probably should look at the appropriate time.” Since February, Southwest has been selling seats on ATA Airlines planes to places it doesn’t fly–such as Honolulu, Denver and New York LaGuardia Airport. The arrangement is called code-sharing. Kelly told an investor’s conference today that the ATA deal could add $40 million to $50 million in revenue for Southwest.

A consultant hired by Southwest Airlines says adding flights between Dallas Love Field and 15 other U. S. cities would lead to lower fares. Overall, the study found that allowing long-haul flights from the close-to-downtown Dallas Airport would save travelers nearly $700 million. Southwest offered the study yesterday to bolster its case to repeal the Wright Amendment. That 1979 law has blocked the low-cost carrier from flying direct from Dallas–its corporate home–to most major U. S. cities. Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and American Airlines defend the limits at Love Field, which were put in place to bolster DFW in its early years. But Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly says DFW is now the world’s third-busiest airport and doesn’t need the protection.

American Airlines and its unions are urging a Senate Finance Committee against legislation that would force a freeze of American’s defined benefit pension plan. The urging came in a letter to the committee that held a hearing yesterday on the crisis of pensions in the airline industry. While Fort Worth-based American wasn’t called to testify, the company sent the statement to be entered into the record. American is in better shape with its pensions than some competitors, having received key concessions from its unions. In the letter, American said it understands the desire other airlines have for legislation that allows them to freeze defined benefit plans and convert to other types of plans. However, American doesn’t want legislation requiring a pension plan freeze. It says it fears legislation that would place greater funding burdens on companies with “below investment grade” credit ratings.

The head of American Airlines today said the carrier is unlikely to buy Boeing’s next jet until the money-losing carrier returns to profitability. Chief Executive Gerard Arpey wants Fort Worth-based American to get better credit terms. Arpey told an investors conference in Dallas that American considers the Boeing 787 Dreamliner–“a very intriguing airplane.” But Arpey says American likes to pass on the first model of new jets. The 787 Dreamliner is due out in 2008. Boeing says it has 21 customers that have placed 128 firm orders for the 787, including Continental Airlines. Boeing bills the plane as a money-saver that uses less fuel and has lower maintenance costs than current jetliners.

Continental Airlines begins daily non-stop service tomorrow from its New York hub at Newark Liberty International Airport to Hamburg, Germany. It’s the fourth of six trans-Atlantic flights that are being added by the Houston-based air carrier this year. Continental has begun service to Belfast and Stockholm, and will be adding Berlin and Delhi later this year.

A luxury extended-stay hotel called the Granduca is being built on the grounds of Uptown Park just off the West Loop, according to the Houston Chronicle. Developer Giorgio Borlenghi has developed two condominium towers and an outdoor retail center that sold last week for $69 million. The six-story hotel will have 132 rooms.

Cleanup work is under way northeast of El Paso after a pipeline break spilled an estimated 50,000 gallons of gasoline on the desert soil. The line is owned by Houston-based Kinder Morgan and ships about four million gallons of gasoline a day between El Paso and Tucson, Arizona. Officials believe the pipeline ruptured early May 28th in a remote area of Fort Bliss. Kinder Morgan spokesman Rick Rainey tells the El Paso Times the pipeline was repaired and back in service two days later. Cleanup crews have already recovered about 20,000 gallons of standing gasoline, but about 30,000 gallons is expected to still be in the soil. The U. S. Office of Pipeline Safety has a task force investigating Kinder Morgan.

Opponents of a North Texas cement maker’s plan to shut off pollution control equipment hope mediators can help find a compromise. The mediation plan follows a preliminary hearing before state administrative law judge Thomas Walston in Waxahachie yesterday. State environmental regulators ordered the hearing in response to opposition to Texas Industries’ request to change its air permit to allow higher emissions. During the hearing, parents of children who attend school near the Midlothian Cement Plant and other Midlothian residents were admitted as parties to the case. Some residents and environmentalists in Ellis County say area cement makers are polluting the air and causing health problems. Midlothian is 25 miles southwest of Dallas.