Wednesday PM July 23rd, 2008

Hurricane Dolly makes landfall on Texas-Mexico border, missing most oil and natural gas producing installations…President Bush drops opposition to mortgage rescue bill…METRO receives final approval of Southeast Corridor environmental statement…

Hurricane Dolly made landfall early this afternoon near South Padre Island. Dolly is a Category 2 storm with top sustained winds near 100 mph. Landfall is when a storm’s center crosses the coastline, but it does not necessarily indicate the location of the worst weather.

The storm missed most major oil and natural gas producing areas of the Gulf of Mexico. The Minerals Management Service says personnel were evacuated from 49 of the 717 platforms in the Gulf. Workers from six out of 123 rigs have been taken back to shore. Shell had evacuated 200 workers. Apache removed 140 and temporarily shut down production from seven platforms. Chevron also removed some workers from offshore installations, as did Transocean, which pulled 14 workers from an ultra-deepwater drill ship. Rowan Companies, Diamond Offshore, Noble Corporation and Pride International also announced evacuations. MMS reports that Dolly caused about five percent of oil and gas production in the Gulf to be shut in.

The Coast Guard closed 29 miles of the Mississippi River at New Orleans after a 600-foot tanker and a barge loaded with fuel oil collided. Officials say the barge broke in half. The Coast Guard says nobody was injured, but more than 419,000 gallons of heavy, almost tar-like fuel oil spilled from the barge–forming a slick at least 12 miles long. Michael Wilson with ship management company Laurin Maritime America of Houston says the tanker is not leaking. The Liberian-flagged tanker suffered minor damage. Wilson says the double-hulled Tintomara is loaded with about 4.2 million gallons of biodiesel and nearly 1.3 million gallons of styrene. A diesel smell was noticeable in the French Quarter and parts of the New Orleans business district.

Nigeria’s main militant group is threatening to destroy the country’s major oil pipelines within 30 days. A spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta says in an e-mail statement it would take the action to counter allegations that militants have received money from the nation’s state-run oil company to protect oil facilities. The militant group said Wednesday that it would destroy major pipelines within 30 days to prove they are not part of the deal. Attacks have slashed Nigeria’s oil output by almost a quarter in the past two years, helping push up world crude prices.

The Federal Reserve says the country slogged through slower economic growth and rising prices during the summer, packing a double whammy to people and businesses alike. The Fed’s new snapshot of business conditions, released Wednesday, also underscores the challenges confronting Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues as they try to get the economy back on track.

The House has passed legislation that aims to help 400,000 strapped homeowners who are facing foreclosure and prevent troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from collapsing. The 272-152 vote on Wednesday reflected a Congressional push to send election-year help to struggling borrowers and to reassure jittery financial markets about the health of two pillars of the mortgage market. The measure is on track to pass the Senate and become law within days. President Bush dropped his opposition earlier in the day. The White House swallowed its distaste for $3.9 billion in grants the bill would provide for devastated neighborhoods.

METRO has received final approval of its Southeast Corridor environmental statement from the Federal Transit Administration. This is the second Record of Decision received by METRO this month. The North Corridor was granted one by the FTA in early July. RODs, which show compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and other requirements, are key in obtaining federal funding. METRO seeks federal funds for three of the five light rail expansion lines.

The price of gasoline has dipped again. AAA’s fuel-gauge report puts the national average price of a gallon of regular at $4.04 a gallon. That’s down a little more than a penny from Tuesday. And it’s seven cents better than the record high six days ago. Premium is also down about a penny from Tuesday, to $4.43 a gallon.

Drivers in Texas spend nearly six percent of their income on gasoline, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, as reported by the Houston Business Journal. That’s about twice as much as what drivers in some states spend. The average Texas motorist spent $2,174 on gasoline in 2007—about 5.85 percent of income. Mississippi tops the list with more than eight percent of income spent on fuel, while drivers in Connecticut spend 3.17 percent of income.

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