Wednesday December 7th, 2005

Enron pays back taxes to state of Texas…Federal jury acquits former Duke Energy vice president of falsifying trading data…Contractor to discuss soil freezing plan with port officials… Enron has given the Texas Attorney General’s Office its largest single tax collection. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced today that his office had collected $8.3 million in back […]

Enron pays back taxes to state of Texas…Federal jury acquits former Duke Energy vice president of falsifying trading data…Contractor to discuss soil freezing plan with port officials…

Enron has given the Texas Attorney General’s Office its largest single tax collection. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced today that his office had collected $8.3 million in back taxes from the failed Houston energy company and three subsidiaries. The payments include a tax claim of $7.7 million. Abbott says that’s the largest single tax collection in the Bankruptcy and Collections Division’s history. The Texas Comptroller’s Office had referred the tax claims to Abbott’s office. Enron went bankrupt in December 2001 amid revelations of hidden debt, inflated profits and accounting tricks. The company emerged from Chapter 11 in November 2004 with a plan to repay most creditors about one-fifth of about $63 billion owed in cash and stock.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved Enron’s plan to transfer ownership of Portland General Electric to Enron creditors through the issuance of 62.5 million shares of utility stock. The approval moves PGE closer to severing ties with Enron and become a publicly traded company. The Oregon Public Utility Commission must still sign off on the change.

A federal jury in Houston has acquitted a former Duke Energy vice president of falsifying trading data. Forty-three-year-old Todd Reid had been accused of recording false trades to inflate profits for his unit. Meanwhile, the jury acquitted 41-year-old Timothy Kramer of seven counts of conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud and bypassing accounting controls. But jurors split on the remaining 12 charges. The jury will resume deliberations tomorrow on the remaining charges against Kramer, who also was a former Duke Energy vice president. Reid and Kramer were accused of illegally manipulating the company’s gas and power trades from March 2001 to May 2002 to increase reported profits and their bonuses.

Construction delays have pushed the opening of the Port of Houston’s Bayport container and cruise terminal back two months, to possibly August of next year. But project contractor Zachry Construction is considering abandoning an innovative ground-freezing technology that was going to be used for dredging. Port of Houston Authority chief executive Tom Kornegay says the contractor may be working with the port to change the whole method.

Tom Kornegay audio

The technology would use a frozen wall 1,700 by 110 by 50 feet, to minimize the environmental effects associated with dredging the $1.2 billion project.

Federal emergency officials are sending $10.61 million in hurricane aid to Texas. U.S. Senator John Cornyn said today the Federal Emergency Management Agency is sending the dollars to help cover costs relating to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The money comes through public assistance program grants. The Texas Republican says it doesn’t reflect the total costs state and local governments have incurred, and additional funding requests are being considered. Cornyn says the bulk of the latest grant–about $9.5 million–is going to Tyler County in the East Texas piney woods to help pay the costs of debris removal. Tyler County already had received a $4.85 million grant last month. Corpus Christi will get about $1.12 million to help pay for housing Hurricane Katrina evacuees from Louisiana.

Continental Airlines and its flight attendants resumed labor contract talks today. But hurdles to an agreement remain, including proposed cuts in wages and benefits. The Houston-based air carrier has continued the talks on-and-off since flight attendants in March rejected an $82 million proposal. So far those efforts haven’t produced an agreement. Last June, the nation’s fifth-largest carrier asked the National Mediation Board to appoint a mediator to help with talks. Other sticking points include pension security and crew rest. In March, Continental reached pay and benefit cut agreements with its largest unions–except its 9,000 flight attendants. The deals approved by pilots, mechanics and other unions furnished about $418 million in cost cuts. Continental seeks $500 million in total cuts to counter continued losses and soaring jet fuel prices.

Continental says statements this week from the European Union clearly acknowledge that European approval of a E.U.-U.S. open skies agreement hinges on Europe getting the U.S. to relax federal laws on foreign ownership and control of U.S. airlines. The E.U. says Congressional action is necessary to change the interpretation of the foreign ownership law. While an open skies agreement permits flights to London’s Heathrow Airport, there are no commercially viable slots that would allow Continental to begin service there. Continental says there is no reason to put out the U.S. “welcome mat” for European airlines while U.S. airlines remain locked out of Europe’s front door.

A Merck research executive says the company never misled doctors and the public about studies linking heart attacks to Vioxx. Dr. Alise Reicin returned to the stand today in Houston in the first federal trial over the painkiller. A Florida woman whose husband died in 2001 is suing Merck. Dr. Reicin says the company kept defending the drug’s safety because Merck looked at several studies and simply didn’t believe Vioxx caused heart attacks. Vioxx was taken off the market last year. Fifty-three-year-old “Dicky” Irvin died in 2001 after taking Vioxx for back pain. Dr. Thomas M. Wheeler, who leads the Baylor College of Medicine’s pathology department, testified today for Merck. Wheeler said Irvin’s sudden death was caused by plaque that ruptured in an artery and that he had heart disease.

Royal Dutch Shell says a crude oil distilling unit at its Deer Park refinery was shut late Monday because of a leak from a pipe in another part of the plant. Repairs are being made on a debutanizer line in a hydrotreater at the distilling unit. Normal operations are expected to resume this week.

Houston-based Enterprise Products Partners has agreed to a ten-year natural gas liquids contract with a unit of Norway’s Statoil, according to the Houston Business Journal. Enterprise will import, store, sell and export natural gas liquids at its Mont Belvieu facility. Enterprise transports natural gas, NGLs and crude oil through 32,500 miles of onshore and offshore pipelines.

Houston-based U.S. Concrete has acquired the operating assets of both GoCrete and South Loop Development, which the company says will expand its presence in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The acquired companies produce ready-mixed concrete from six plants. It’s a $27.3 million deal. U.S. Concrete has 99 fixed and seven portable ready-mixed concrete plants, eight pre-case concrete plants, three concrete block plants and two aggregate quarries.

Dallas-based Trinity Hunt Partners has acquired Houston-based Lone Star Fasteners for $33.5 million. Lone Star makes specialty fasteners and gaskets for subsea petroleum exploration and production systems and petroleum and petrochemical refineries. It also services defense, aerospace and pulp and paper processing industries.

Minneapolis-based Dunn Brothers Coffee has opened its first gourmet coffee house in the Houston area on South Fry Road in Katy. An additional outlet is planned. The franchise has 58 locations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota and Texas.

A South Texas wind farm project has been sold to a Scottish firm. Corpus Christi-based oil and gas explorer American Shoreline says it’s agreed to sell the Penascal Wind Farm Project to PPM Energy for an undisclosed price. PPM plans to expand the Kenedy County wind-powered electricity-generating project to a capacity of 400 megawatts. The American Wind Energy Association calculates that’s enough to provide power to more than 110,000 homes. PPM says the 500 acres of windmill and related construction will create as many as 300 jobs, with 12 jobs to be created for the facility’s operations. Portland, Oregon-based PPM is a subsidiary of Scottish Power. It calls itself a leader in the U.S. wind energy industry with wind-powered electricity generating facilities with a generating capacity of 1,600 megawatts.

The state has won a $1.1 million court judgment against a Fort Worth woman for an alleged immigration scam. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott says the lawsuit his office filed accused Enriqueta Lozano of lying about her credentials and defrauding money from immigrant families. According to a statement from Abbott’s office today, a state district judge in Fort Worth has now ordered her to stop providing unauthorized legal advice and other immigration services. Abbott says he’s asking for help from the public in tracking the woman, who remains on the run. According to the lawsuit, Lozano illegally operated three businesses–Azteca Organizacion, Valentino’s and Azteca & Valentino’s. The lawsuit says one of her customers lost $24,000 in fees allegedly paid to Lozano for immigration consultation and services.

The number of rigs that searched for oil and gas worldwide in November climbed 17 percent since November 2004, according to Baker Hughes. The total North America rig count last month rose by 377 to 2,086 rigs. The number of rigs worldwide rose by 436 to 3,021 rigs in the past year.

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