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Thursday PM June 10th, 2010

BP setting up semi-submersible drilling rig to capture larger volume of leaking oil…New claims for jobless benefits drops for third straight week…Governor Rick Perry traveling to China next week on trade and tourism mission…


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By early next week, BP could be able to capture a lot more of the oil that’s gushing from a well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. The company says a semi-submersible drilling rig will be able to capture and burn about 420,000 gallons of oil a day. Once on board, the oil and gas collected from the well will be sent down a boom and burned at sea. Testing will begin this weekend. A drill ship already at the scene can process a maximum of 756,000 gallons of oil daily that’s sucked up through a containment cap sitting on the well head.

The House has voted to make more money available to the Coast Guard to pay for its response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama. It removes the $100 million limit that the Coast Guard can spend on the spill from a government trust fund used to pay cleanup costs. Representative James Oberstar of Minnesota says the Coast Guard will run out of money to fight the spill next week if the spending cap is not lifted. The House voted 410-0 to lift the spending cap. Lawmakers said the federal government will require BP to reimburse the Coast Guard’s expenses.

The Obama administration says BP has agreed to expedite the payment of claims to businesses and individuals whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the oil spill. Tracy Wareing, who is with the National Incident Command Office, tells reporters in Washington that the understanding on payment of claims came in a meeting Wednesday with BP executives, including CEO Tony Hayward. Wareing said administration officials raised a “pressing concern” about the time BP has been taking to provide relief payments, particularly to businesses in the stricken area. She said the company will change the way it processes such claims and will expedite payments. Among other things, it will drop the current practice of waiting to make such payments until businesses have closed their books for each month.

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill risks turning into a Trans-Atlantic diplomatic rift. U.S. threats to have BP fork out billions more for the disaster have caused a precipitous slide in the blue-chip’s stock, hurting retirement savings for millions of Britons. British lawmakers are even pushing Prime Minister David Cameron to get President Barack Obama to tone down his stinging criticism of the oil company, complaining that the hostile rhetoric will have severe implications for pensioners with nest eggs in the company. The share slide has since April almost halved BP’s market value. BP says there was no reason for the stock drop, stressing its strong finances.

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to pass legislation to help small business get loans and create jobs. After meeting at the White House with Democratic and Republican leaders, Obama predicted lawmakers will have a “busy agenda going forward.” Obama says they also discussed the Gulf oil spill, overhauling financial regulations, passing a supplemental war spending bill, reducing annual deficits and moving the energy bill.

New claims for jobless benefits have dropped for a third straight week. The Labor Department says initial claims fell by 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 456,000. That’s nearly the same level as in January. At the same time, the tally of laid-off workers continuing to claim jobless benefits fell by the largest amount in almost a year. That could be because more people are finding work. But it may simply mean they have exhausted their initial state benefits. Continuing claims fell by 255,000 to 4.5 million, the lowest level since December 2008.

The budget deficit through the first eight months of the government’s budget year is running slightly below last year’s record-setting pace. In its monthly budget report, the Treasury Department said that the deficit in May totaled $135.9 billion, down 28.3 percent from May 2009. Much of that improvement reflected calendar differences which boosted receipts and lowered government benefit payments for the month. Over the past eight months of the government’s budget year, the deficit totals $935.6 billion. That’s down 5.7 percent from the same period in 2009. While that is an improvement over last year, it still puts the country on track to record another $1 trillion-plus deficit.

The nation’s trade deficit rose to the highest level in 16 months in April. Exports fell for the second time in three months, a potentially worrisome sign that Europe’s debt troubles are beginning to crimp American manufacturers. The Commerce Department says the trade gap widened to more than $40 billion in April, a gain of 0.6 percent from March. U.S. exports dropped 0.6 percent while imports declined by 0.4 percent.

Federal regulators have put in place new rules aimed at preventing a repeat of last month’s harrowing “flash crash” in the stock market. Members of the Securities and Exchange Commission today approved the rules, which call for U.S. stock exchanges to briefly halt trading of some stocks that have big swings. The exchanges will start putting the trading breaks into effect as early as tomorrow for six months. The plan for the “circuit breakers” was worked out by the SEC and the major exchanges following the May 6th market plunge that saw the Dow Jones industrials lose nearly 1,000 points in less than a half-hour. Under the new rules, trading of any S&P 500 stock that rises or falls ten percent or more in a five-minute period will be halted for five minutes. The “circuit breakers” would be applied if the price swing occurs between 9:45 a.m. and 3:35 p.m. Eastern time–almost the entire trading day.

Governor Rick Perry and First Lady Anita Perry are traveling to China next week with state, business and tourism leaders. They’re attending “Salute to Texas Week” Sunday, June 11th through Saturday, June 19th at Shanghai’s World Expo 2010. Governor Perry says this gives Texas the opportunity to develop international relationships and draw investment into the state. Also attending will be Comptroller Susan Combs, Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, Greater Houston Partnership officials and some state representatives. The economic development and tourism delegation will meet with potential business investors and tourism industry professionals.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says China has the potential of becoming the largest foreign market for U.S. exports. But he says the country must do more to dismantle unfair trade barriers. He told Congress the Obama administration is committed to engaging forcefully with China to make sure that American workers are competing on a level playing field with Chinese workers. Geithner said that distortions in China’s currency policy are spreading far beyond China’s borders and that reform in this area was critically important for the United States and the global economy.

A Texas jury has awarded $82.5 million in damages to the family of a Mineral Wells man who died in a 2007 explosion at a natural gas processing plant in Hood County. According to an Ammons Law Firm news release, Houston-based Exterran Energy Solutions, formerly Hanover Compressions, constructed, engineered and installed the natural gas processing plant. The jury found the company grossly negligent in the death of 27-year-old Joshua Wade Petrie. An Exterran spokeswoman said Thursday that the company is declining comment at this time. The jury Monday decided that Hanover was 90 percent responsible. Quicksilver Resources was cited for ten percent responsibility. Petrie had been employed by Fort Worth-based Quicksilver at the time of the explosion.

Rates on 30-year fixed mortgages fell this week to the lowest level of the year and were barely shy of the all-time low. Freddie Mac says the average rate sank to 4.72 percent, down from 4.79 percent last week. It was just above the record of 4.71 set last December. The average rate on a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage hit 4.17 percent, down from 4.2 percent last week and the lowest on records dating back to August 1991.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released the final draft of a new crop insurance plan it says will save the federal government an estimated $6 billion over ten years. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters during a conference call from Washington that $4 billion of the savings will go toward deficit reduction. He says $2 billion will be used to expand farm risk management programs and the Conservation Reserve program, which pays landowners to take environmentally sensitive land out of production. The USDA had argued that crop insurance companies were making excessive profits. The industry’s return in 2009 was 26.4 percent. Vilsack says the new plan projects the long-term return for the companies at about 14.5 percent.

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