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Schlumberger’s Record Fine and Texting While Driving: Thursday’s show (March 26, 2015)

Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, whose domestic offices are based here in Greater Houston, has agreed to pay more than $232 million for violating U.S. sanctions in Iran and Sudan. The subsidiary Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Limited will also plead guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act or IEEPA. Other […]

Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, whose domestic offices are based here in Greater Houston, has agreed to pay more than $232 million for violating U.S. sanctions in Iran and Sudan. The subsidiary Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Limited will also plead guilty to conspiring to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act or IEEPA. Other companies have paid larger settlements, but those were mostly forfeitures of illegally-obtained profits. That only applies to $77 million of Schlumberger’s payment; according to the U.S. Justice Department, the rest — $155 million – represents the largest criminal fine ever imposed in connection with prosecution under the IEEPA.

According to court documents, between 2004 and 2010, Schlumberger’s Drilling and Measurements or D&M business segment, based in Sugar Land, provided oilfield services to customers in Iran and Sudan through a non-U.S. subsidiary of Schlumberger. The Sugar Land unit apparently tried to hide what it was doing. According to court records, in communication, employees used code words, like “Northern Gulf” for Iran, and “Southern Egypt” for Sudan.

The Justice Department calls it a “landmark case that puts global corporations on notice that they must respect our trade laws when on American soil.”

The fine and guilty plea come at a tough time for Schlumberger. Amid dramatic drops in the price of oil, the company announced layoffs earlier this year of up to 9,000 employees.

On this edition of Houston Matters, we discuss what this means for Schlumberger, and what it might mean for other oil services companies who seek to do more business overseas, with News 88.7 FM business reporter Andrew Schneider.

Then, we turn our attention to natural gas and consider whether the shale boom is — as a recent Houston Chronicle article suggested — “starting to waver.” It’s not that there isn’t more gas trapped beneath shale to capture (though that supply is not indefinite), a question the industry is asking now is: with crude oil fetching far less per barrel than it did just a year ago, is it economically profitable enough? We ask Forbes writer Christopher Helman, and Richard Stubbe, the Houston Bureau Chief and Editor on Energy Markets for Bloomberg News.

Also this hour: After hours of sometimes heated debate Wednesday, the Texas House passed a bill that would ban texting while driving across the state of Texas. The bill allows police to pull over and fine motorists suspected of using a wireless device to read, write or send a text message while driving — unless the vehicle is stopped. A similar measure passed both houses four years ago, but was vetoed by then Governor Rick Perry.

A study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health looked at the impact of texting bans on motor vehicle fatalities over a ten year period across 48 states. It found traffic fatalities fell by 3 percent in states with bans like the one that just passed the Texas House, but more dramatically among younger drivers — an 11 percent reduction among 15-21 year-olds. This reinforces the perception that younger drivers are at greater risk of ending up in an accident due to distracted driving. We learn about other efforts to discourage distracted driving among younger drivers in Greater Houston. And we welcome your questions for the Houston-Galveston Area Council‘s Alan Clark, Lisa Kyle from the Youth Transportation Safety Program at Texas A&M’s Transportation Institute, and Herbie Martinez, a sales manager with Univision, who began speaking out on this topic after his son died in a distracted driving accident in 2011.

Then: Nearsightedness, farsightedness, double vision, cataracts, macular degeneration…there’s an awful lot that can go wrong with our eyes. And even if you have 20/20 vision now, odds are pretty good your vision won’t stay like that forever. Whether you’re concerned about squinting at the computer screen, or you just want to know why it is you used to be able to read the ingredients on the back of a Sweet ‘n Low packet, and now you can’t, we’ll welcome your vision care questions for Dr. Ruhi Soni, an ophthalmologist at the Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

And: Starting Friday night, Lone Star College-CyFair’s drama department presents a production of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play Doubt, A ParableOn the surface, this play set in a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964 explores what happens when a nun, Sister Aloysius, without direct evidence, suspects her parish priest, Father Flynn, has abused a student. Shanley intentionally doesn’t reveal whether anything untoward actually took place. But as we’ll hear from the cast and director of the Lone Star CyFair production, there are deeper conflicts at the heart of the play, which resonate in myriad ways in 2015 Houston.

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