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Friday, August 12th, 2005

Investigation of BP Innovene fire underway…Record gasoline prices follow record crude oil prices…Harris County receives $6.9 million for back property taxes from Enron… Firefighters today finally extinguished the last of the flames left from a Wednesday night explosion and fire at a BP subsidiary’s chemical plant near Alvin. The blast and fire happened in an […]

Investigation of BP Innovene fire underway…Record gasoline prices follow record crude oil prices…Harris County receives $6.9 million for back property taxes from Enron…

Firefighters today finally extinguished the last of the flames left from a Wednesday night explosion and fire at a BP subsidiary’s chemical plant near Alvin. The blast and fire happened in an olefins unit at the Innovene Chocolate Bayou plastics plant. No one was injured in the explosion and fire. The unit produces plastic feed stock, including ethylene and polypropylene. The 2,400-acre Innovene plant is located about 15 miles from Alvin in Brazoria County. Innovene spokesman Dan Cummings says an investigation of the cause of the fire will now begin. Crews today planned to use nitrogen to purge the remaining chemical components out of the unit so they can be burned off. This was the second mishap this week at a BP facility, and the fourth in the last six months.

Record crude oil prices in the $66 per barrel range translated into record gasoline prices at Texas pumps this week. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey released today finds the average price of regular unleaded self-serve in Texas soared to almost $2.32 a gallon. That’s up a huge 11 cents from last week and 54 cents above last year’s average. AAA Texas spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says pump prices reached record levels in all Texas cities it surveyed after crude oil prices topped $65 a barrel. She warns that motorists should expect to see a substantial jump in retail gas prices over the weekend–perhaps as much as five cents a gallon. Houston’s prices jumped over 11 cents a gallon to average just over $2.32 a gallon. The cheapest prices remain in the Corpus Christi area, where they averaged $2.28 a gallon–but that’s up 15 cents a gallon. The costliest pump prices continue to be in the Dallas area, where they average $2.36 per gallon–up 11 cents from last week. The national average rose ten cents to almost $2.40 per gallon.

Americans are worrying about soaring gas prices–and many could be facing very real lifestyle changes. A limousine driver in Washington, DC says he has to buy gasoline every day. Thomas Mesfin says he makes a good living with his vehicle, but fuel costs are getting very expensive. Other motorists are worried that rising prices will force many people to park their cars. And some are wondering what the oil companies are doing with the money, and why the government won’t tap domestic reserves. One motorist at a service station in northern Virginia says she’s glad that she only has one car to fill at $2.71 a gallon. A New York man who paid $53 to fill up his Ford Explorer says he can no longer afford to have two cars. A Wisconsin woman says if the prices increase further, driving will be out of her financial reach. A Pennsylvania woman whose husband uses the car for business says her family will be in a lot of trouble if his driving route expands. The level of concern is rising most rapidly among women, retirees, married people and suburbanites. A new Associated Press/AOL poll indicates that nearly two-thirds of the respondents expect gasoline prices to cause money problems for them within the next six months. That’s sharply higher than in April, when about half felt that way.

Continental Airlines has joined United Airlines and Delta Air Lines in raising U. S. fares as jet fuel prices continue climbing to record levels. Continental is matching Delta’s $10 increase each way in most markets, and $3 to $5 on some routes where it competes with low-far carriers. United raised fares $2 to $5 each way on most routes. American and Northwest Airlines are studying the increases.

Harris County received $6.9 million for back property taxes this week from Enron. The payment ordered by a U. S. bankruptcy judge in New York is the most the county has ever received from bankruptcy proceedings. Two-thirds of the award was for back taxes, and the remainder came from penalties and interest, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt said. The county’s previous record for a bankruptcy collection was $3.2 million from Worldcom last year, Bettencourt spokesman Joe Stinebaker said in the Houston Chronicle. A law firm-collection agency representing the county will receive 15 percent of the money. About half the remaining money will go to the county, the City of Houston and local community colleges. The balance will go to the Houston Independent School District.

The Department of Justice is not pressing criminal charges in connection with the rupture of an El Paso Corporation natural gas pipeline in New Mexico that killed 12 people. The August 2000 blast near Carlsbad was blamed on internal corrosion by the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Reliant Energy is selling its 505-megawatt, natural gas-fired power plant near Huntington Beach, West Virginia to American Electric Power affiliate Appalachian Power Company in a $100 million deal. The Ceredo facility is a simple-cycle peaking facility with six combustion turbines that Reliant acquired in 2002 as part of its acquisition of Orion Power Holdings.

Reliant Energy has signed a multi-year marketing and energy supply agreement with the Houston Astros that makes it the official electricity supplier to the team and Minute Maid Park.

HVJ Associates has purchased QTE Group in Dallas. HVJ Associates is a geotechnical, pavement, environmental and construction services group with offices in Houston and two other Texas cities. The firm has been involved with the Interstate 10 reconstruction, Minute Maid Park and the Houston Ship Channel expansion.

The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has received approval from the UT System Board of Regents to build a new $145 million office building. It will be sited behind the M. D. Anderson Faculty Center at 1800 Holcombe facing Pressler. Construction on the new Faculty Center Tower is set to begin in November for a spring 2008 opening. The new building will help M. D. Anderson centralize many departments that are currently leasing space in multiple office buildings.

Holder’s Pest Control of Houston has acquired Houston-based bacterial bioremediation firm BioStim, according to the Houston Business Journal. BioStim provides drain and grease trap treatments to more than 250 clients using naturally-occurring microbes. The company employs 45 people.

Round Rock-based Dell reports that its low-priced laptops and other bargain systems cramped its second-quarter revenues. Dell says its second-quarter net income rose 28 percent. At the same time though, Dell is projecting third-quarter revenue slightly below the average analyst estimate. As it announced its results, after the close of trading yesterday, the company said it intends to buy back at least $1.2 billion in stock during the current fiscal quarter.

A bankruptcy filing by Asarco Mining appears to make things more difficult for striking workers. Asarco’s parent company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization Wednesday in a Corpus Christi federal court. A bankruptcy lawyer in Tucson, Arizona says the filing means Asarco and the strikers are subject to the authority of the bankruptcy court. More than 1,500 Asarco workers in Amarillo and in southern Arizona have been off their jobs for about six weeks. The strikers are members of seven unions. The chief negotiator for the United Steelworkers Union says the filing may actually help the unions. The Union says Asarco officials will have a creditors’ committee watching over them to see how much copper they can get out of the ground while the price is good. The union says the committee might side with the unions.

A California businessman has pleaded guilty to bilking hundreds of victims–including dozens of east Texans–of $27 million in a real estate scam. Jules Bernard Fleder pleaded guilty in a Tyler federal court yesterday to conspiracy to commit securities and mail fraud, and committing securities fraud. The plea agreement includes a ten-year prison sentence and restitution. Assistant U. S. Attorney Arnold Spencer says that 90 percent of the money he bilked would be returned to the more than 250 victims involved. Based in Los Angeles, the 64-year-old Fleder controlled more than 130 businesses in several states. In the east Texas scheme, Fleder obtained nearly $2 million from investors to start a modular home manufacturing plant and establish a residential subdivision on land in Lindale.

Blockbuster today moved to shore up investor support. Stock in the Dallas-based movie rental chain’s hovered close to its all-time low on the heels of a disappointing financial report for the April-through-June quarter. Chairman John Antioco again vowed that Blockbuster would turn a profit in the fourth quarter. Antioco suggested the quarter would also look good in comparison to the same period last year. That’s because the company won’t be spending the $100 million it did in late 2004 on new business initiatives. Blockbuster paid to build an online subscription service and advertise the chain’s decision to eliminate most late fees. Also today, Moody’s Investors Service cut its ratings on Blockbuster debt, which were already below investment grade, and gave a negative outlook.

Baker Hughes in Houston today reports the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U. S. decreased by seven this week–to reach 1,429. One year ago the rig count was 1,232. Texas lost ten rigs this week.

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