Monday AM June 25th, 2007

Natural gas demand to double by 2012 as ethanol production increases…BP sells stake in Siberian gas field to Gazprom…Veolia Water to move North American headquarters from Houston to Indianapolis… Ziff Energy has released a report reviewing the growth of natural gas demand for ethanol production. Natural gas is used as an input to grow crops […]

Natural gas demand to double by 2012 as ethanol production increases…BP sells stake in Siberian gas field to Gazprom…Veolia Water to move North American headquarters from Houston to Indianapolis…

Ziff Energy has released a report reviewing the growth of natural gas demand for ethanol production. Natural gas is used as an input to grow crops such as corn for ethanol feedstock and to provide thermal energy for the ethanol production process. Ziff forecasts that gas demand for ethanol production will double by 2012, as a result of the push for greener power sources and energy policies in North America mandating the increased use of ethanol as a vehicle fuel.

BP says it has sold its stake in a giant Siberian gas field development to Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom. Gazprom will pay between $700 million to $900 million for BP’s nearly 63 percent stake in the company that holds the license for the field. The deal comes as the Kremlin increases its hold on the world’s biggest hydrocarbons industry.

Airgas Southwest plans to consolidate its Pasadena, La Porte and Houston facilities, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Pennsylvania-based firm will combine operations into one $10 million fast-fill plant on 13 newly-purchased acres in La Porte. The plant will incorporate cylinder filling technology to house atmospheric and specialty gases, as well as hydrocarbon blends. The firm is a distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases, producing nitrous oxide and dry ice.

A subsidiary of Houston-based offshore oil and gas driller Transocean has received a $900 million five-year contract from a BP unit to drill off Angola. The contract can be later extended to seven years. Transocean has ordered a deep-water drillship for $640 million, to be delivered in 2010.

Veolia Water will move its North American headquarters from Houston–to Indianapolis. The switch is expected to mean about 100 jobs for Indianapolis. The company announced it plans to start filling finance, accounting and information technology positions later this year. Veolia Water North America has operated the Indianapolis Water Utility since 2002 and already has 375 employees in the city. Veolia also operates one of its 12 learning centers in Indianapolis, to train its North American employees. Other training centers for Paris-based Veolia are in Paris, Australia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and China. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation offered Veolia up to $1.5 million in performance-based tax credits based on the added jobs.

The International Monetary Fund says the U.S. economy should grow slightly faster for the remainder of this year and into 2008. That’s because the housing market slump should cause less of a drag on the broader economy. The IMF warns that growth is uncomfortably close to the two percent “stall speed” associated with past recessions even if other accompanying factors–rising unemployment and high interest rates–are not evident. The IMF pegs growth in the U.S. this year at two percent and nearly 2.8 percent next year. It says recent cooling of U.S. activity has coincided with a pick up in growth in Europe and Asia.

Plans have been announced for Seabrook’s 15-acre project at Endeavour Marina on Clear Lake, including a hotel, a 200-unit high-rise condominium tower, and a high-rise office building overlooking the lake. The Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership says at least 50 condos will be available over the hotel guest rooms. Retail shops, restaurants, public boardwalks and 500 additional boat slips are also planned in the project, which gets underway sometime next year.

Preliminary site plans have been drawn for Space Center Plaza, a 27-acre redevelopment on NASA Parkway across from the Johnson Space Center. The plan calls for eight retail/commercial sites, and there are two buildings with space for retail on the first floor and office space on the second. Three office buildings are in the mix—two three-story structures and one eight-story. A 200-room hotel, parking garages and a two-level conference center are also planned. Five acres have been set aside for residential. Demolition of the old buildings is expected to begin by the end of the year.

Webster-based Spacehab has been awarded a $35 million contract by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Spacehab’s Astrotech Space Operations business segment is for the support of payload launches on upcoming missions. Spacehab will provide the services of expendable launch vehicles to launch satellites into space.

Houston-based MI Swaco has opened a new facility in Bangkok, Thailand, that will offer training in fluids and environmental solutions. The facility houses three classrooms, a fluids laboratory and equipment training for the company’s environmental solutions offerings. The center will also conduct classes in solids control, cuttings re-injection, cuttings drying and their proprietary pneumatic cuttings collection and transport system. MI Swaco is jointly owned by Smith International and Schlumberger.

A judge has OK’d a plan by Chevron Phillips Chemical to buy nearly 1,700 acres of wetlands and donate them to the Big Thicket National Preserve. The agreement ends a 13-year legal battle. The suit was brought by friends of the earth over Chevron Chemical’s violation of discharge limits at its Orange facility, into the Sabine Lake Watershed. Chevron Chemical was the predecessor of Chevron Phillips Chemical, a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation and Houston-based ConocoPhillips. The Big Thicket National Reserve is owned and managed by the National Park Service. Chevron Phillips will provide money for adjacent wetland acreage to be bought by the Conservation Fund. The fund will then transfer the land to the Park Service. A dollar amount has yet to be determined.

Plans are under way to build a $600 million casino complex at the site of Bethlehem Steel’s former massive works along the Lehigh River in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. But one of the biggest challenges for builders is getting steel delivered. The steel is being ordered from distant companies such as Nucor of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Chaparral Steel of Midlothian, Texas. In order to start work early next year, officials at Sands Bethworks must order most of the 16,000 tons they’ll need by mid July. That means steel detailers and fabricators are at the table with the casino designers, interpreting plans as they go along. It’s an ironic picture. Jay Allen is an executive vice president with Schuff Steel of Phoenix, which is managing the construction. Allen points out that Bethlehem “is the birthplace of structural steel.” He says this “is like going to Jerusalem and not being able to find religion.”

Houston American Energy will begin trading on NASDAQ around July 5th, using the symbol “HUSA.” Houston American’s common stock currently trades on the American Stock Exchange.

The University of St. Thomas has received a $4.5 million gift from former Fiesta Mart owner Trini Mendenhall Sosa—the university’s largest-ever gift form an individual donor. The money will fund the Mendenhall Achievement Center and Mendenhall Summer Institute.

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