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Friday PM October 29th, 2010

Federal judge orders tests on cement Halliburton used to seal the BP well…Economy expanded at slightly faster pace over summer…Immigrants returning to work quicker than U.S.-born counterparts, but receiving less pay than before economic downturn…



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A federal judge is ordering tests to be performed as soon as possible on cement Halliburton used to seal the BP well that blew out catastrophically in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said some of the components may be “deteriorating over time” and that tests should be done “as soon as reasonably practicable.” Barbier is overseeing lawsuits filed after the BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20th, killing 11 workers and setting off a massive oil spill. Halliburton’s cementing work on the well has jumped to the forefront of investigations into the explosion. The president’s Oil Spill Commission said tests performed before the blowout should have raised doubts about the cement used to seal the well.

Analysts say Halliburton should be protected from most damages related to the Gulf spill under its contract with BP. The analysts said Halliburton’s contract has indemnity clauses from liability for spill damages. It doesn’t offer protection if gross negligence is determined. Halliburton acknowledges it skipped a critical test on the final formula of a cement mixture used to seal BP’s well before it ruptured.

A team of scientists are leaving on a research cruise to see if the oil spill hurt deep-sea coral and organisms that live around natural oil and gas seeps in the Gulf. It’s counterintuitive, but scientists say an oil spill could hurt organisms such as tube worms and mussels that eat oil, gas and hydrogen sulfide gushing from natural oil and gas seeps. That’s because these organisms can die if oil settles on them from above. The biologists and geoscientists aboard the Gyre research vessel will tow a cage with a high-resolution digital still camera and take photographs of the depths. The study is being led by geophysicist Bill Shedd of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The economy grew at a slightly faster pace over the summer as Americans spent a little more freely. The government reports the economy expanded at a two percent annual rate in the July-September quarter. It marked an improvement from the feeble 1.7 percent growth in the April-June quarter. Still, the economy isn’t growing at a strong enough pace to make a noticeable dent in high unemployment. Consumers boosted spending at a 2.6 percent pace. That marked the biggest quarterly increase since a 4.1 percent gain at the end of 2006 before the recession hit.

Employment costs posted another modest gain in the July-to-September quarter with compensation for state and local government employees turning in the weakest performance in nearly three decades. The Labor Department says that employment costs for civilian workers rose 0.4 percent in the third quarter and are up just 1.9 percent for the 12 months ending in September. High unemployment following a deep recession continues to depress workers’ bargaining power. State and local government workers, who have been battered by shrinking budgets, fared even worse than employees of private industry. Their compensation was flat in the third quarter and up only 1.7 percent in the past 12 months. Both were the weakest showings on records that go back 28 years.

Immigrants are returning to work quicker than their U.S.-born counterparts. But they are receiving less pay than before the economic downturn. Those are findings of a Pew Hispanic Center study. It said immigrants in the U.S. have gained 656,000 jobs since the Great Recession ended in June 2009. By comparison, U.S.-born workers lost 1.2 million jobs. The unemployment rate for immigrants fell over the same period to 8.7 percent from 9.3 percent. For American-born workers, the jobless rate rose to 9.7 percent from 9.2 percent. Immigrants make up 15.7 percent of the labor force. The study said immigrant wages fell sharply in the last year. It said Latino immigrants experienced the largest wage drop of any group.

President Barack Obama says his mission is to accelerate the economy’s recovery. He’s calling attention to a proposal he says would create jobs, grow the economy and help businesses. Obama wants Congress to allow businesses to deduct 100 percent of the cost of certain investments, such as new equipment, through the end of 2011. Businesses now can deduct half of such costs. Obama says such a break would leave businesses with extra money they could use for hiring or additional investments.

About 16,000 businesses and homes in Galveston lost electricity after strong winds were blamed for pushing a crane on a barge into some power lines on Thursday. The Coast Guard says nobody was injured. Thursday’s accident forced temporary closure of the Intercoastal Waterway at the causeway. Centerpoint Energy spokesman Keith Gray says crews were able to roll service over to another transmission line. Power was restored within about three hours. The Galveston County Daily News reports the Coast Guard set up a safety perimeter for vessels around the railroad bridge spanning Galveston Bay. The Intercoastal Waterway was reopened by early afternoon. The National Weather Service recorded gusts of up to 30 mph Thursday morning.

Texas is the only state taking no steps to meet new federal greenhouse gas emission rules that go into effect in January. The new rules go into effect January 2nd, 2011. They require the nation’s largest industries to meet more stringent greenhouse gas emissions standards in new or significantly modified structures. The National Association of Clean Air Act Agencies acts as a go-between to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for state governments. It says 49 states have either changed their laws to allow regulation of greenhouse gases or will allow the EPA to issue permits for them. Texas is doing neither. The EPA and Texas environmental regulators were not immediately available to comment.

Forget all the talk about voters being fed up with high taxes: in hundreds of cities and counties across the country, they are raising them. An Associated Press review of local election results found voters earlier this year boosted taxes in the face of lingering economic woes to help pay for schools, public safety and other services they believe are essential to their communities. No single entity tracks local revenue measures at a national level, but the AP analyzed 39 states that represented a cross-section of the country. The review found 2,387 revenue measures in 22 states where they appeared on local primary and special-election ballots this year. Voters in 19 states–or 86 percent of those holding such elections–passed 50 percent or more of the local tax initiatives that came before them.

A Nigerian policeman says an Indian expatriate who leads an ExxonMobil-supported school in the oil-rich Niger Delta has been released by her kidnappers. Akwa Ibom State Police Commissioner Walter Rugbere says officers recovered Lakshmi Tombush on Thursday night from a house in Eket, the same city where the U.S. oil company has its base of operations. Rugbere says that Tombush was in good health. Rugbere says police also found the kidnapped wife of a former military governor at the same time. The commissioner says no arrests have been made. The number of violent kidnappings targeting middle-class Nigerians in the region has skyrocketed this year.

Japanese automakers Suzuki and Mitsubishi are issuing separate recalls to fix issues with crossover vehicles. Suzuki is recalling nearly 70,000 SX4 compact crossovers from the 2007-2010 model years to replace screws on the outside rearview mirrors that could become loose. The automaker told the government the mirrors could become loose because of vibration and fall off the vehicle, creating a safety risk. Mitsubishi is recalling more than 19,000 Endeavor crossover vehicles from the 2006-2008 model years to address air conditioning problems. It says the air flow could randomly change direction and the temperature could cycle between hot and cold. The problem could affect the defroster, which could lead to poor windshield visibility and a crash.

The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by three this week to 1,672.Houston-based Baker Hughes says that 967 rigs were exploring for natural gas and 696 for oil. Nine were listed as miscellaneous. a year ago this week, the rig count stood at 1,069. Texas gained five rigs. The rig count tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. The industry posted a record low of 488 in 1999.