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Tuesday September 6th, 2005

Offshore oil and gas production slowly resuming operations…Houston Ship Channel dredging project expedited in hurricane’s aftermath…Corporate donations of cash and services continue… As half of the Gulf Coast refineries damaged by Hurricane Katrina begin to ramp up production this week, industry experts have this message: be patient. The going is also slow for the restoration […]

Offshore oil and gas production slowly resuming operations…Houston Ship Channel dredging project expedited in hurricane’s aftermath…Corporate donations of cash and services continue…

As half of the Gulf Coast refineries damaged by Hurricane Katrina begin to ramp up production this week, industry experts have this message: be patient. The going is also slow for the restoration of offshore oil and gas production. The Minerals Management Service says almost 70 percent of normal oil production and half of the natural gas output remains shut down. The agency says activity is slowly recovering. Eight major refineries that produce gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, and heating oil were knocked out of commission. And the output at two others was cut by last week’s killer hurricane and the flooding that followed. That cut overall U. S. refining capacity by more than ten percent and contributed to a surge in retail gasoline prices and spot shortages around the country. Four of the refineries are expected to resume this week. When the four are running at 100 percent, they represent more than a million barrels of refined oil product a day.

The Marco Polo platform owned by Anadarko in the Gulf of Mexico resumed production on Sunday evening. BP has brought its Holstein offshore production platform back into service.

Venezuela’s Citgo Petroleum has set up disaster relief centers in Texas and Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Venezuela’s Emergency Management director says the company’s begun providing humanitarian aid to thousands of American victims. Volunteers at Citgo refineries in Lake Charles, Louisiana and Corpus Christi are providing medical care, food and water to about 5,000 people. Meanwhile, volunteers from the company’s Houston headquarters have provided similar help to some 40,000 victims. Venezuela’s oil minister also says the nation will send one million barrels of gasoline to the disaster zone as soon as possible. The oil producing country is a major supplier to the United States.

The government of Japan has unveiled plans to release some of its emergency oil reserves held by refiners to boost supplies in the wake of the shock caused by Hurricane Katrina. A Japanese government minister said his country will start releasing to the market about 200,000 barrels a day of crude oil and refined products from its reserves held by private companies. Japan plans to free a total of more than seven million barrels over the next 30 days. The International Energy Agency announced Friday that its members, including Japan, would draw on two million barrels a day of oil over the following 30 days. That’s a total of 60 million barrels to help offset the loss of output and refining capacity in the U. S.

Anticipating that ship traffic will be diverted from the damaged ports in New Orleans and Gulfport, Mississippi, a dredging project in the Houston Ship Channel has been expedited. Port officials say the project, which will allow larger and more vessels through the channel, is now accepting vessels with drafts up to 45 feet. Port spokeswoman Argentina James says that because of Hurricane Katrina and lots of calls for diverted cargo with deep-water vessels, the Corps of Engineers and the Port and the Houston Pilots got together and got procedures to expedite the dredging. In the past, vessels would stop first in the Port of New Orleans, drop off cargo, and then head to Houston. Now vessels headed for Houston will be carrying that extra load. Heavier ships sit lower in the water. The dredging project will involve removing “an obstructive hump” in the middle of the channel. Only the Port of Gulfport, Mississippi remains closed to all traffic. Pascagoula, Mississippi is open to vessels with 12-foot draft or less. Mobile, Alabama is open to barge traffic only. Pensacola, Florida and Destin/Panama City, Florida are open to vessels with a 31-foot draft of less.

The Labor Department is releasing up to $75 million to Texas to provide services to Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Waco Congressman Chet Edwards today announced the federal money will be going to the Texas Workforce Commission. Nearly a quarter of a million Louisiana evacuees have made their way to Texas–staying in shelters, hotels, motels and other centers. More than $23 million will be made available–immediately. The money is part of a national emergency grant meant to provide temporary employment for people to assist with disaster relief efforts. The funds also can be used for short-term vocational training that help be useful during the Katrina rebuilding in New Orleans and elsewhere.

A fund set up by former Presidents Bush and Clinton to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims raised more than $1 million online in its first 24 hours. Both presidents were in Houston yesterday to announce kickoff for the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Tens of thousands of Katrina refugees from Louisiana are being housed in shelters across Texas–including the Astrodome. More than 35 corporate donations were pledged to the fund when it was announced. Officials say since then more than 5,000 individuals have donated online.

Corporate donations of cash and services continue, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Offshore Technology Conference is donating $100,000 to the American Red Cross. Transocean is making an initial $100,000 contribution to the American Red Cross and matching employee donations up to $50,000. DHL is donating up to $50,000 of in-kind shipping services to the American Red Cross, official government relief agencies and other organizations for relief efforts and long-term rebuilding activities. Camping World is funding the donation of nearly $70,000 worth of sleeping bags, tents, T-shirts, hats and other items. The University of Houston College of Optometry is offering a 70 percent discount for eye exams to evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi, offering new glasses at cost.

Skyline Executive Suites is providing “plug and play” office space for executives, offering to have office space up and running with furniture, T-1 connections, phone system and fax lines in a matter of minutes for business people. Ready-to-use offices and meeting spaces are also being offered by Regus Business Centres and HQ Global Workplaces, which have 16 Texas locations, including four in Houston. Morris Architects has made space for up to 15 architects in need of business resources and infrastructure, providing office space and computers through the end of the year. Xvand Technology is offering six months of free service to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama companies.

Stanford Coins & Bullion says the hurricane has forced it to move its operations to Houston from the New Orleans suburb of Metairie. The company’s parent company is Stanford Financial Group, which is headquartered in Houston.

Latin travel industry conference La Cumbre switched venues to Minute Maid Park instead of its original location at the George R. Brown Convention Center, currently housing Katrina evacuees. More than 27 countries will be represented at the conference, which is being held Wednesday through Friday.

The Texas Apartment Association is encouraging members to work cooperatively with local authorities and to support relief efforts. The TAA is encouraging members to offer short-term leases and to consider waiving application fees and move-in fees. Some TAA members are offering free or reduced rent to evacuees to help them through the immediate crisis.

The Houston Independent School District has been collecting names of certified teachers from Louisiana who want to teach evacuees at the Astrodome and the George R. Brown Convention Center. The Memorial Hermann Healthcare System has openings for licensed RN’s of all specialties, as well as pharmacy, rehab/physical therapy, imaging and respiratory professionals. Texas Southern University is hiring displaced faculty, as required. Houston software developer and consultant Ascent Business Systems on Dairy Ashford opened three new positions for Louisiana workers last Wednesday. The president of the local chapter of the Council of Independent Restaurants is hearing from restaurant owners who want to help, and that group plans to set up a Web site for job offers.

The Texas Workforce Commission is assisting the Louisiana Department of Labor in processing Louisiana Disaster Unemployment Assistance claims. Louisiana workers who lost their jobs due to the disaster and have relocated to Texas can go to the nearest TWC office and file a claim, or claims can be filed through the TWC Web site.

The North Harris County Montgomery Community College District is offering the same tuition it charges students within its boundaries to student evacuees. Texas Southern University has so far opened its doors to almost 300 students from Louisiana affected by the hurricane. San Jacinto College is offering in-district tuition to Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi residents affected by the hurricane.

The Houston Airport System has delivered 16 vehicles and three trailers loaded with equipment to help the staff and Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans to help with clean-up and air service restoration. Some 33 Houston airport maintenance employees are helping out.

Houston’s Coca-Cola Bottling Company is running a special production line to produce 50,000 cases of filtered drinking water for distribution to evacuees through the American Red Cross and FEMA. Another 100,000 cases of water are being produced in Memphis. Coca-Cola has set up a toll-free number for employees in the hurricane region to contact.

Nearly every branch of the United Nations is criticized by a committee probing the Iraq Oil-for-Food program. That program was worth $64 billion and was designed to help the Iraqi people cope with tough sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. The year-long investigation by a UN-appointed panel concludes the world body allowed “illicit, unethical, and corrupt behavior” to overwhelm the operation. But the panel also finds that the program succeeded in providing minimal standards of nutrition and health care for Iraqis. The report criticizes Secretary-General Kofi Annan. But it establishes no link to nepotism and favoritism and the awarding of a contract to a Swiss company Annan’s son worked for. The Associated Press obtained a draft of the report in advance of its Wednesday release.

By one measure, business activity in the services sector of the nation’s economy expanded last month. But many executives surveyed by the Institute for Supply Management express concern about rising energy costs. The group says its Non-Manufacturing Index rose to 65 percent in August. That’s up four and a-half points from the previous month. Any number above 50 indicates growth. The report was issued by ISM chairman Dr. Ralph Kauffman of the University of Houston-Downtown.

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