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Monday August 15th, 2005

Reliant Energy settles lawsuits stemming from West Coast power crisis…Gasoline prices hitting another record high…Economic development study places blame for refining and petrochemical expansion decline and job loss… Reliant Energy today agreed to settle lawsuits arising from an energy crisis in the western states. Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reports. Rod Rice audio Gasoline prices […]

Reliant Energy settles lawsuits stemming from West Coast power crisis…Gasoline prices hitting another record high…Economic development study places blame for refining and petrochemical expansion decline and job loss…

Reliant Energy today agreed to settle lawsuits arising from an energy crisis in the western states. Houston Public Radio’s Rod Rice reports.

Rod Rice audio

Gasoline prices nationwide hit another record high, this time more than $2.50 a gallon. The Lundberg Survey says the average price rose 20 cents over the past three weeks, mirroring a rapid rise in the cost of crude oil. Analyst Trilby Lundberg expects we’ll continue to see high demand for gasoline through Labor Day. She says after that, prices will likely tail off, as long as a major hurricane or some other disaster doesn’t interrupt shipments or activity at oil refineries. Retail prices for gasoline are up an average of 70 cents since the beginning of the year and about 63 cents from this time a year ago.

Globeleq has sold its minority share in the San Isidro gas-fired generating plant in Chile to majority shareholder Endesa Chile. Globeleq focuses on projects in emerging markets in Africa, the Americas and Asia. Since 2002, Globeleq has acquired generating capacity in 20 projects in 15 countries.

Houston-based Harvest Natural Resources has paid Venezuela $744,000 toward the oil company’s tax bill. The tax agency says Harvest owes $85 million in back taxes spanning four years. Harvest had said it could take the tax claim to international arbitration, but the payment indicates the company may have changed plans. Officials of the Texas-based firm weren’t immediately available for comment. Harvest pumps about 21,000 barrels of oil per day at Venezuela’s South Monagas oil fields. It’s the company’s only source of income. The firm was the second of 22 oil companies with operating contracts to pump oil in Venezuela to get a retroactive bill.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners is planning a $40 million expansion of its Texas intrastate natural gas pipeline system into the Permian Basin. The Houston-based company is converting 254 miles of a newly-acquired 24-inch crude oil pipeline to natural gas service. The project is designed to provide Austin and other Central Texas markets with access to additional supplies of natural gas beginning in October.

Texas jurors hearing evidence in the nation’s first Vioxx-related civil trial got the day off today. Lawyers on both sides expect to offer final arguments Wednesday in Angleton. The case involves the 2001 death of Robert Ernst, who had taken Vioxx to relieve pain in his hands. His widow is suing drug maker Merck. Both legal teams today worked to hash out issues jurors will consider in reaching a verdict. Plaintiff’s lawyer Mark Lanier plans to presents two rebuttal witnesses tomorrow.

South Texas leaders are gearing up to convince three base closure commissioners visiting the Coastal Bend this week that Naval Station Ingleside should take over a navy pilot training mission. Moving the mission from Master Jet Training Base Oceana in Virginia could mean 8,000 jobs for the Texas Gulf Coast and the survival of Ingleside. Retired Air Force Brigadier General Sue Ellen Turner has planned a fact-finding tour Wednesday of the Corpus Christi-area base. Coastal leaders hope to garner her support, touting the area’s geographical amenities. For example, South Texas has 18,000 nautical square miles of sky virtually free of commercial jets. And Ingleside’s deep-water port can host a carrier. Then there’s Governor Rick Perry’s offer of $365 million in incentives to win over the mission.

A recent economic development study shows the loss of jobs and a decline in facility expansion in the refining and petrochemical industries can be blamed on increased taxes, regulatory burden, infrastructure decline, global competition and an undeveloped workforce in Texas. The economic study by Texas economist Dr. Ray Perryman was commissioned by area economic development groups with funding secured by U. S. Congressman Tom Delay. The House Majority Leader says the report points to three areas on which lawmakers should focus: tax reform and reduction, regulatory sensibility and a comprehensive energy policy.

Six Flags AstroWorld is hiring 200 seasonal openings for the fall, including workers for the month-long Fright Fest Halloween celebration in October. Available positions are in rides, games, food service, security, retail and admissions. Interested candidates have to be at least 16, and can apply online or by calling 713-794-3217. Resumes can be dropped off at 901 Kirby Drive.

The 25 workforce programs of Houston Community College have received exemplary status from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Those who receive that status from the state’s regulatory and oversight body for institutions of higher education must meet 17 measures and standards and exceed the standards in at least five categories. HCC now holds the largest number of programs receiving the board’s top rating at any of the state’s community colleges during the current rating period. The 25 degree and certificate programs include training in business and finance, information technology, criminal justice, medicine, fashion and interior design.

Houston-based Shelving Concepts has acquired shelving manufacturer Dixie Shelving, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Dixie Shelving name will be retained. Dixie Shelving was established in 1958.

The Texas cotton crop suffered from a lack of rain early in the growing season. That’s prompting a conservative federal forecast for the nation’s cotton crop. The U. S. Department of Agriculture projects a 22 percent drop in cotton production nationwide this year from last year’s record harvest. The USDA first field survey of the year says Texas is expected to produce 6.1 million bales this year–down from 7.8 million bales last year. The expected 1.7 million fewer Texas bales account for the bulk of the eight percent drop in the nation’s production outlook. That calls for 21.3 million harvested bales. Texas is the country’s largest cotton producing state, bringing in more than a third of the nation’s total harvest.

Southwest Airlines says that familiar “ding!” sound from its TV commercials has also been helping sales online. The Dallas company says it has sold $30 million worth of tickets this year with software that bypasses e-mail and alerts customers to discounted air fares on their computers. The airline is tinkering with changes in the software that it will use during a one-day fare sale tomorrow. The software is called Ding! And Southwest says a million customers have downloaded it free from the company’s web site since February. It notifies users of sales by a bell and an icon on their desktop screen. Southwest says it is faster than e-mail alerts commonly used by airlines. The airline has been among the most successful carriers at cutting costs by shifting ticket sales from reservations agents to its web site. More than half of Southwest tickets are purchased at the site.

Food-service distributing giant Sysco Corporation said today its fourth-quarter profit edged up one-and-a-half percent. The Houston-based nation’s leader in food-service distribution reports earnings of $284.7 million. Sysco distributes food and other services to restaurants, schools, hospitals and other institutions. It says lower costs offset declining revenue. Revenue was estimated at $8.04 billion.

Basic Energy Services has registered for an initial public offering of up to almost $259 million in common stock. That’s according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Details about the number of shares to be offered and an estimated price range for the IPO weren’t disclosed in Friday’s registration. Midland-based Basic Energy Services provides well-site services to oil and gas drilling and producing companies. It says it plans to use $70 million of the net proceeds from the IPO to repay part of the term loan under its credit facility. The rest would go for general corporate purposes. Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston, Lehman Brothers, UBS Investment Bank, Deutsche Bank Securities, Raymond James and RBC Capital Markets are listed as underwriters.

In the 1990’s the Tiguas opened the Speaking Rock Casino in West Texas. In the next decade the tribe went from bust to boom–and back to bust. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon are at the center of a U. S. Senate investigation into whether the two schemed to swindle six Indian tribes with casinos–including the Tiguas. Abramoff was indicted last week on fraud charges over a deal to buy casino boats in Florida. He’s denied the allegations. For the Tiguas, the tribe’s hope of gambling fortunes began with high stakes bingo. Then came slot machines. In 2002, a court agreed with then-Texas Attorney General John Cornyn that the casino violated the state’s limited gambling laws–and shut it down. Tribal officials paid Abramoff and Scanlon to help reopen it. The Tiguas were also instructed to donate to Republican candidates or causes. Tribal Governor Arturo Senclair says members didn’t know Abramoff and Scanlon apparently were also behind an effort to close their casino. An Abramoff spokesman calls the allegations levied by the tribe–baseless. The tribe got back about half of the money it paid Abramoff and Scanlon in a settlement. The casino is now mostly quiet, except for the occasional winner’s bell from entertainment machines that replaced the slots. The new games award points that can be traded for merchandise.

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