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Thursday PM June 12th, 2008

ExxonMobil leaving retail gasoline business…Lawsuit filed in death of Goodyear plant worker…United Airlines follows American Airlines in charging $15 for first checked bag…

ExxonMobil is getting out of the retail gasoline business, a market where profits have gotten tougher because of high crude oil prices. The world’s largest publicly traded oil company said it will sell its 820-company owned stations and another 1,400 outlets operated by dealers to gasoline distributors across the U.S. The Irving-based company didn’t disclose financial details but said the transition will take place over a “multiyear period.” However, motorists will continue to see Exxon and Mobil stations throughout the country. About 75 percent of its roughly 12,000 stations in the U.S. are owned by branded distributors. ExxonMobil will still sell gasoline to those stations and get paid for the use of its name.

AAA and the Oil Price Information Service say the national average price for a gallon of unleaded regular climbed to another record at $4.06. That’s a dollar higher than a year ago. The lowest average is in Missouri at $3.85. At the other extreme, Californians are paying the highest price on average, $4.54 a gallon.

One chemical plant worker died and six others were hurt in an explosion and ammonia leak at the Goodyear plant in Houston. The body of the worker was found under debris about six hours after the Wednesday morning blast. Attorney Terry Bryant has filed a gross negligence suit against the chemical plant on behalf of Gloria McInnis. Raymond McInnis is retired after working at the plant for 38 years. He told the Houston Chronicle he questions the methods used by plant officials to find his wife’s body. Plant officials say they’re examining the issues McInnis raised. Five other workers were treated and released from area hospitals, and a sixth was being held for observation. Goodyear spokesman Scott Baughman says the accident happened in a heat exchange unit. The cause of the accident is sought. Authorities say there was no danger to the public. The explosion also caused a small release of ammonia, which used as a refrigerant to cool processed liquids.

United Airlines is following Fort Worth-based rival American Airlines in charging $15 for a first checked bag. The suburban Chicago-based airline announced the new fee, three weeks after American set the precedent. United says the fee goes into place for customers who buy tickets beginning Friday for domestic flights of August 18th or later. Also, united is increasing the fee to check three or more bags, overweight bags or items that require special handling to $125 from $100 or to $250 from $200, depending on the item. The fees reflect a struggling airline industry passing the costs of high fuel prices to passengers. Arlington-based airline expert Tom Parsons says that as of July 1st, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines will be the only U.S. carrier that permits two checked bags for free.

Anheuser-Busch, says it has received an unsolicited takeover offer from European beer maker Inbev worth nearly $47 billion. Inbev is said to be offering $65 a share for the St. Louis-based beer maker. In May, reports surfaced that Inbev might offer about $46 billion for the company, which makes Budweiser, Bud Light and other beers. Anheuser-Busch says it is reviewing the offer. Anheuser-Busch shares rose nearly seven percent in after-hours trading, in reaction to the news.

Grey Wolf has rejected a $2 billion takeover offer from Precision Drilling Trust according to Bloomberg. The Houston-based oil and gas driller says it will instead go through with its purchase of Basic Energy Services announced in April.

The Texas Department of Public Service removed more than 1,400 commercial vehicles from roadways for equipment violations during a three-day crackdown. DPS announced results of the June 3rd through June 5th review dubbed “Roadcheck 2008.” Commercial vehicle enforcement troopers inspected 5,824 vehicles, removing 1,435 from service because of safety violations. Violations included 911 trucks that needed brake adjustments, 564 with brake system problems and hundreds more with light malfunctions or tire problems. Troopers also removed 178 drivers from the road, 122 of them for hours-of-service violations. Others were cited for false log violations, expired licenses, drug or alcohol violations and seat belt violations. Last year, troopers removed 1,659 vehicles and 259 drivers from service.

The House has passed an extension of jobless benefits for all unemployed Americans. The bill’s future is uncertain, however, because of a White House veto threat. The House passed the bill by a 274-137 margin, one day after failing to get a veto-proof margin from the chamber’s Democrats and Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will try to bring the bill up as a stand-alone measure, but it is more likely that it will be placed inside the Iraq war spending bill. The bill would extend the average $300-a-week unemployment benefit check by 13 weeks for all Americans. Job seekers in high unemployment states like Alaska, California, Michigan and Rhode Island would get an extra 13 weeks on top of that.

The government says a peak in gasoline prices may be in sight. But it also says don’t look for the bottom to fall out of high prices. The Energy Department says gas should top at $4.15 a gallon this summer. It looks for prices at the pump to remain above $4 a gallon most of year. Energy Information Administration chief Guy Caruso told a House panel that crude prices are expected to average $126 a barrel in 2009, or $4 a barrel higher than this year because supplies and demand will remain tight. Other experts told the panel that people shouldn’t expect any quick fixes to the nation’s energy problems.

Spain’s government has told striking truck drivers to get back to work, and warned those who are continuing the strike that they have no chance of winning. The Madrid government signed an agreement last night with a number of non-striking truckers unions. The deal includes tax relief and other measures to ease the impact of soaring fuel costs, but it doesn’t contain a key demand wanted by the independent drivers who refuse to sign: minimum rates for their services. One government minister says that demand “is not going anywhere.” The Interior Minister is promising police escorts for any truckers who return to the road. The strike has had an impact. Auto plants have been idled by a lack of parts. Many stands in Madrid’s main market are empty because there have been only a few trucks arriving with fresh fruit and produce. A grocery store clerk says there has been a wave of panic buying this week.

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