Thursday PM February 21st, 2008

Study says nearby residents claim being affected by BP refinery explosion…Venezuelan state-run oil company to challenge court injunction obtained by ExxonMobil in British court…Record-high crude oil prices cause gasoline prices to skyrocket in Texas and nationally…

A new study says that the BP refinery explosion that killed 15 people in 2005 also affected how people living near the plant evaluated their health. The study was published this month by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Researchers say residents within a 12-square-mile area of the BP refinery suffered a perceived decline in mental and physical health following the blast in March 2005. The explosion happened as researchers had already begun collecting health data on people living near petrochemical plants in Texas City. Researchers who had interviewed 550 residents since July of 2004 went back and revisited with 315 of them in the months after the blast.

A top Venezuelan oil official says the state-run oil company is preparing to challenge a court injunction obtained by ExxonMobil in a British court. Deputy oil minister Bernard Mommer says a hearing will be held in London next week. The court injunction froze $12 billion in Petroleos de Venezuela assets. Petroleos de Venezuela and ExxonMobil are locked in a fierce legal battle over compensation for the nationalization last year of one of four heavy oil projects in Venezuela’s Orinoco River basin. Irving-based ExxonMobil wants Venezuelan assets frozen in the United States and Europe to guarantee that compensation if it wins a decision by an international arbitration panel.

Record-high crude oil prices this week have caused retail gasoline prices to skyrocket in Texas and nationally. The weekly AAA Texas Gas Price Survey finds regular self-serve gasoline soared 12 cents this week to an average of $2.99 per gallon. Nationally, prices soared 11 cents to $3.09 per gallon. Houston’s average is up almost 13 cents to $2.97 per gallon. Auto club spokeswoman Rose Rougeau says eight of the 11 Texas cities in the AAA survey posed double-digit percentage increases this week. That’s after crude oil prices surged past $100 per barrel on the basis of speculation and the prospect of OPEC production reductions. San Antonio has the lowest average in this week’s survey at $2.95 per gallon, up nine cents from last week. Texarkana has the most expensive gas in the state at $3.06 per gallon, up 18 cents from last week.

The number of start-ups in oil exploration and production for this year is already rivaling the volume of 2007, according to Oil and Gas Investor This Week, as reported by the Houston Business Journal. This Week says there are 36 new companies–ten of which are in Houston.

Retailers will add more than five million square feet of new space to the Houston area this year, according to developer Ed Wulfe, speaking at an O’Connor & Associates luncheon. That’s 24 percent more space than was added last year. More than a quarter of the new space being developed will house new outlets for Wal-Mart, Target and Costco, which together are opening eight new outlets this year. Not included in Wulfe’s projections are the 71 banks that are expected to open in the Houston area this year, after 107 new bank outlets opened in 2007. His forecast also doesn’t include small strip centers and drugstores.

The Federal Reserve’s latest forecast suggests it’s losing the battle on two key economic fronts. It’s lowering the forecast for economic growth this year, and is raising the outlook for inflation. On the new forecast, the central bank says it believes Gross Domestic Product will grow between 1.3 percent and two percent this year. That’s lower than a previous Fed forecast for growth, which at that time was estimated to be between 1.8 percent and 2.5 percent. GDP is the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is a barometer of the country’s economic fitness. It looks for unemployment to climb as high as 5.3 percent this year, and the inflation rate to be as high as 2.4 percent.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required