Monday November 7th, 2005

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Board sends investigators to Valero oil refinery in Delaware…El Paso Corporation posts third-quarter loss…Greyhound resumes New Orleans service from Houston… Investigators at a Valero oil refinery are trying to figure out why two workers went inside a Delaware City silo where they couldn’t breathe, leading to their deaths. The two […]

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Board sends investigators to Valero oil refinery in Delaware…El Paso Corporation posts third-quarter loss…Greyhound resumes New Orleans service from Houston…

Investigators at a Valero oil refinery are trying to figure out why two workers went inside a Delaware City silo where they couldn’t breathe, leading to their deaths. The two workers died early Sunday while working on a unit at the refinery. The facility, owned by San Antonio-based Valero, processes heavy sour and high acid crude oil and employs about 570 people. The silo was under a nitrogen atmosphere and workers are not permitted to enter it without extensive protective gear, including a breathing apparatus. The men appeared to have succumbed to nitrogen fumes, according to state police spokesman Jeff Oldham. State police identified the men as John Ferguson of Westminster, Maryland and John Lattanzi of Laurel Springs, New Jersey. Both men were contract workers with Matrix Services, and were scheduled to perform work in the area, but were not authorized to go inside the silo, according to Valero spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown. Matrix services was responsible for giving instructions to its employees, but Valero filled out the work orders indicating what the contractors were authorized to do. Harold Rowland, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration representative who was at the refinery Sunday, declined to comment about the deaths. The refinery produces conventional and reformulated gasoline, diesel, low sulfur diesel and home-heating oil. Valero, the largest refiner in North America, owns and operates 18 refineries in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean that refine roughly 3.3 million barrels of crude oil each day. The company also has about 4,700 gas station convenience stores.

El Paso Corporation today posted a wider third-quarter loss on one-time events and increased gas and oil prices. Houston-based El Paso operates the nation’s largest gas transport system. The quarterly loss after preferred dividends totaled $321 million for the three months that ended September 30th. That compares with the year-ago loss of $214 million dollars. The latest results included $190 million in losses from a power plant impairment and contract buyout and asset divestiture, partly offset by $110 million in gains. El Paso, which has undergone a restructuring, also cited higher natural gas and oil prices. Those led to $390 million in non-cash mark-to-market losses on derivatives, as the company tried to manage price risk for its gas and oil production volume through 2009.

Greyhound resumed serving New Orleans last Monday, offering limited daily service via Baton Rouge and Houston. The bus from Houston makes stops in Baytown, Beaumont and Port Arthur, as well as Lake Charles, Lafayette and Baton Rouge, before arriving in New Orleans. Greyhound stopped service to New Orleans the Saturday before Hurricane Katrina hit the city. Anna Folmnsbee with Greyhound says some routes have been cut back over the past few months, but still has around 16,000 daily departures.

Anna Folmnsbee audio 1

Greyhound is important to smaller towns that don’t have airports.

Anna Folmnsbee audio 2

Greyhound began changing its pricing strategy in the summer of 2003, eliminating unprofitable and marginally profitable routes. This included reducing jobs, capital expenditures and overhead costs.

Houston home builders constructed a record number of single-family homes over the past three months, with a 14 percent jump over the same time last year. Builders report sales of 12,828 homes in the third quarter, according to housing research firm Metrostudy.

Incentive agreements from Sugar Land, Fort Bend County and Levee Improvement District #2 have been approved for the relocation of the Western Division headquarters of Sunoco Logistics Partners from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some 149 jobs will be brought to Sugar Land in Lake Pointe Plaza around February. Sunoco Logistics acquires, owns and operates Sunoco’s refined product and crude oil pipelines and terminal facilities.

Houston-based U.S. Concrete has completed the $14 million cash purchase of three ready-mixed concrete companies in Memphis and northern Mississippi. City Concrete, City Concrete Products and City Transports operate five plants, and U.S. Concrete will integrate their assets into its operations in the region.

Houston-based Sterling Construction plans to sell its Steel City Products distribution subsidiary, according to the Houston Business Journal. Sterling specializes in the building, reconstruction and repair of transportation and water infrastructure projects in Texas.

Houston-based Consolidated Graphics is acquiring St. Louis-based Nies/Artcraft Printing, Valcour Printing and Impression Label. Consolidated Graphics has more than 70 printing companies in 25 states.

The Newspaper Association of America says average weekday circulation at U.S. newspapers tumbled 2.6 percent in the six months ending in September. Sunday circulation was down just over three percent. The latest declines show that the year’s-long trend of falling circulation is picking up steam as more people–especially young adults–turn to the Internet for news. In the previous six-month reporting period, which ended last March, weekday circulation was down just under two percent, while Sunday circulation was off 2.5 percent.

The Houston Chronicle has partnered with Chicago-based Feedburner to expand its subscriber reach and raise advertising revenue, according to the Houston Business Journal Feedburner allows the newspaper to track its subscribers and which news items attracted the most interest on its Web site. The Chronicle offers RSS, or Rich Site Summary, allowing Internet users to subscribe and receive feeds from its Web site. The paper is using subscriber statistics to help determine its circulation. The Chronicle has 1.3 million daily readers and 1.8 million Sunday readers. The newspaper’s Web site averages 50 million page views and 3.8 million unique visitors per month.

Trione & Gordon is taking on the name of its parent company beginning in the new year. The real estate services company was acquired by Los Angeles-based CB Richard Ellis in September 2003.

The ASU International specialty underwriting unit of HCC Insurance Holdings has changed its corporate name to HCC SpecialtyUnderwriters. HCC acquired ASU International in 2001.

Continental Airlines says a U.S. Department of Transportation proposal to allow foreign control of U.S. airlines is an attempt to circumvent Congress, which made its statutory ban on foreign control even more restrictive two years ago. Congress forbids actual control of U.S. airlines by foreign citizens. The Houston-based air carrier says DOT is attempting to gut the definition of “actual control” despite the Congressional intent to ensure that only U.S. citizens can control U.S. airlines. Continental says DOT wants to limit the application of the law to only certain aspects of airline management.

Continental ranks the highest in the category of premium service in a recent Zagat survey, and number nine overall in terms of domestic flights, according to Reuters. The survey says overall ratings of U.S. airlines fell by at least 30 percent. Fort Worth-based American Airlines failed to make the Top Ten.

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