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Wednesday PM September 29th, 2010

BP to set up new safety division; new CEO takes over this week…EPA conducts hearings on proposed coal ash regulations…Department of Energy commits $1 billion to recently retooled Futuregen clean-coal project…


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BP’s incoming chief executive is setting up a new safety division to monitor the company’s operations around the world. Bob Dudley announced the initiative two days before he succeeds Tony Hayward as CEO of the oil company. Dudley said the new unit will be headed by Mark Bly, who led the team which produced BP’s recent report on the causes of the Gulf of Mexico oil blowout. Dudley also announced that Andy Inglis, head of BP’s upstream business, will leave the company. Upstream will be reorganized into three units covering exploration, development and production.

A company that owns and operates offshore drilling rigs asked a federal judge to throw out the latest moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman heard arguments on Ensco Offshore’s bid to overturn a six-month drilling ban imposed July 12th by the Interior Department after the BP oil spill. Feldman didn’t immediately rule. The department issued the moratorium after Feldman overturned its initial May 28th directive to halt approval of new deepwater permits and suspend drilling on 33 exploratory wells. Ensco claims Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued the second moratorium to circumvent Feldman’s order. Government lawyers say the July directive came after a “reasoned decision-making process” based on new information.

Three Mexican states have sued BP, Transocean and Halliburton seeking unspecified damages over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The negligence lawsuits were filed in San Antonio by Tamaulipas, Veracruz and Quintana Roo, known for its beaches. The suits allege the plume has reached international waters. Attorney Enrique Serna, representing the states, says San Antonio is a very international, friendly city for Mexican nationals to feel comfortable in the legal environment. BP, facing hundreds of lawsuits over the April spill, declined comment. Halliburton spokeswoman Teresa Wong says the allegations are without merit. Houston-based Transocean, which owned the rig, says its position will be clearly heard during the court process.

The EPA and ExxonMobil have settled allegations that the Irving-based oil giant had illegally stored a billion gallons of hazardous waste at a Pasadena facility. ExxonMobil will invest more than $150 million to close the impoundments and dispose of the waste stored at Agrifos Fertilizer . Agrifos Fertilizer bought the 509-acre site from ExxonMobil in 1998. The site includes a mineral process facility that ExxonMobil must clean up. The EPA says such facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industry.

A spokesman for ConocoPhillips says the company isn’t wavering from its support for a proposed natural gas pipeline in Alaska. Spokesman John Mclemore’s statement comes after CEO Jim Mulva told the Financial Times of London the company would reassess the economics of the project it’s pursuing with BP amid a rise in shale gas supplies. The so-called Denali Project is one of two proposals that would bring gas from Alaska’s North Slope to the North American market. It’s in the midst of an open season to court gas producers and seek shipping commitments. That process ends Monday. After that, Mclemore says the company will consider factors like market response, long-term gas prices, supply forecasts and tax rates in the state to evaluate its next step.

The subject was coal ash when energy industry representatives and environmentalists clashed at an Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Dallas. Bill Zeeble has more.

The Environmental Protection Agency says coal ash could be dangerous. It contains mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which may justify a federal hazard label. That would force coal-fired power plants to change the way they now store and dispose of coal ash. Attorney Michael Nasi, who represents coal plant owners, says the hazardous label would unnecessarily cost energy producers millions to move, store and dispose of coal ash under yet-to be-determined federal rules.

“We’re in the process of documenting those costs. We think it’ll be in the order of hundreds of millions of dollars. We think it would be devastating to the electric generating stability of America and we intend to demonstrate that in this docket.”

The National Sierra Club’s Executive Director, Michael Brune, disagrees.

“Coal industry, coal burning utilities and their allies will tell us that coal ash is safe, just like BP has told us that it can drill safely offshore and that it’s able to respond to a major blowout disaster within hours. We can’t trust corporate executives whose profits are dependent upon their ability to obscure or avoid or evade the truth.”

Brune, other environmentalists, and energy industry leaders will continue making their case at other EPA hearings this month, across the country.

The U.S. Department of Energy says it has formally committed $1 billion in federal stimulus money to the recently retooled Futuregen clean-coal project. The department announced it has signed new deals with the coal businesses and other companies it worked with on the project for years, and with power company Ameren. The department has said the money needed to be committed by September 30th or it would be lost. In August, the department announced radical changes in the project. Long-standing plans to build a futuristic coal plant and store its carbon dioxide underground in the central Illinois city of Mattoon were dropped. The agency now plans to refit an existing plant in Meredosia that Ameren owns and store carbon dioxide at a site to be determined.

Kohl’s is opening 21 new stores in 15 states, creating almost 3,000 jobs. Kohl’s new stores are located in Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The retailer also said it opened a customer-service and operations center in San Antonio to serve its credit card and online customers. The facility has hired about 200 workers and plans to add more than 1,000 jobs over the next three years. Kohl’s now has 1,089 stores in 49 states.

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