Tuesday August 9th, 2005
by: Ed Mayberry, August 9, 2005 12:08:00 am
A state study has revealed nearly 200 previously undocumented sources of possible toxic pollution along Texas' industrial corridors. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality study used infrared technology to find new locations of pollution that may be contributing to smog. Based on state air pollution monitors, however, there is no threat to public health. The study revealed 175 leaks from barges, flares, storage tanks and other industrial equipment along the Houston Ship Channel and in Texas City, Beaumont and Port Arthur. Researchers are unable to measure the quantity of pollution or detect the specific chemical released, but infrared cameras can show the pollution, which resembles dark clouds. The agency will contact specific companies requesting that they submit a report detailing the exact source of the pollution and what can be done to fix it.
The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers says the state averaged 609 rigs drilling for oil and natural gas in June. The alliance issues a periodic petroleum index based on the number of rigs, employment rates and oil and gas prices. Alliance petroleum economist Karr Ingham says the number of rigs tells the story.
Ingham says growth is restricted by the number of qualified workers and available equipment.
Additives aimed at reducing smog in urban areas with the worst air pollution will no longer be required under the energy policy President Bush just signed into law. Agents such as MTBE and ethanol have been added to about a third of the nation's gasoline. But several states--including California and New York--have banned MTBE after it seeped into local water supplies, and other states are phasing it out. And virtually everyone says the requirement that gasoline be formulated to contain at least two percent oxygen by weight isn't needed anymore--and some say it never was. The change in law takes immediate effect in California, from Sacramento to San Diego. It takes effect nine months later along the east coast from Boston to Norfolk, Virginia; in Chicago, St. Louis and other Midwest cities; and around Dallas, Atlanta and Houston.
Houston-based Cheniere Energy expects the amount of gas to be liquified over the next three years to rise 78 percent. Cheniere develops LNG terminals, and says liquification will increase by 13.4 billion cubic feet per day by 2008. Cheniere Chief financial Officer Don Turkelson told a Denver audience that the number of seagoing tankers used to ship the gas will climb to al least 279 from last year's 173 tankers.
The Transportation Reauthorization Act contains four projects that will help ease traffic congestion and improve the flow of cargo in and out of the Port of Houston. House Majority Leader Tom Delay says $40 million will be used to improve roadways used by trucks and by preventing interaction of motorists and trains at several busy crossings. Congressman Delay says congressional districts have to fight for their share of transportation funding.
The funds will be used to improve Port Road and connectors near State Highway 146, as well as provide for other area roads utilized by trucks hauling cargo from the port.
Governor Rick Perry is making the military a $365 million offer that he hopes won't be refused. Perry hopes the incentive package will encourage the pentagon to create a Navy master jet base in the South Texas Coastal Bend region. The base is now at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia. That site is among those that the base closing and realignment commission has recommended for closure. Texas leaders are fighting BRAC's recommended closure of Naval Station Ingleside. Also, two BRAC commissioners will visit Naval Stations Corpus Christi, Ingleside and Kingsville on August 16th. That request came from Congressman Solomon Ortiz.
A pathologist says an emergency room doctor who blamed a heart attack for a Texan's death made a "best guess''--that an autopsy later ruled out. Dr. Thomas Wheeler returned to the stand today in Angleton in a civil trial over the 2001 death of Robert Ernst--who took Vioxx. Ernst's widow is suing drug maker Merck. Wheeler is head of Baylor College of Medicine's pathology department and is testifying for the defense. Wheeler conceded that the emergency room doctor noted common heart attack symptoms of chest discomfort and shortness of breath. But Wheeler said an autopsy accurately attributed Ernst's death to arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, secondary to clogged arteries. Whether a heart attack or arrhythmia alone caused Ernst's death is central to the case.
Spanish construction company Grupo Ferrovial said today it is buying Houston-based Webber Group for $220 million. The deal's aimed at expanding the U. S. reach of Spain's biggest construction company. Already, its Cintra unit has become the strategic partner with the State of Texas in planning the Trans-Texas Corridor infrastructure project. The planned acquisition of Webber is subject to U. S. antitrust approval. Webber Group specializes in infrastructure, aggregate recycling and sand extraction.
El Paso continues selling assets to reduce debt, with a goal of $1.6 billion in asset sales by year's end. The Houston-based pipeline company is selling some south Louisiana midstream assets to Dallas-based Crosstex Energy for $500 million. The sale includes interests in the Eunice, Pelican, Riverside, Sabine Pass and Blue Water processing and fractionation facilities.
Oklahoma-based Kerr-McGee is selling all its North Sea operations for $3.5 billion as part of a strategic realignment. The company's Gulf of Mexico operations are based here in Houston. The strategic plan also includes the divesture of its Gulf of Mexico shelf properties and selected U. S. onshore assets. Kerr-McGee is also separating its chemical business through a dual track process as a sale or IPO/spinoff.
Los Angeles-based Thomas Properties Group and the California State Teachers' Retirement System have acquired four Houston office properties for $280.5 million from affiliates of Equity Office Properties Trust. The properties include the 45-story San Felipe Plaza, the 25-story 2500 City West in Westchase, Brookhollow Central I-III and the nine-story Intercontinental Center in the North Belt.
Preferred Communities of Houston has acquired two apartment communities from Beeler Properties. The complexes include The Trails at Steeplechase and The Trails at Barker Cypress. The company plans to invest $4,000 per unit to upgrade and renovate the complexes.
The Houston Airport System expects passenger traffic to grow by nearly four million more passengers this year, based on the first six months of 2005. Nearly two million more passengers have passed through the city's airports compared to the same period in 2004, with international travel getting a healthy boost from direct services to Asia. Overall international passenger traffic is up by 14 percent. Continental Airlines reports a 10.8 percent increase in passenger traffic to and from Central and south America.
George Bush Intercontinental Airport has a higher rate of on-time performance than any other major airport in the country, according to a report by the U. S. Department of Transportation. IAH beat 32 other airports for on-time arrival and departure performances through June 2005. Houston Airport System Director Richard Vacar says operations have improved dramatically since the finalization of a $3.1 billion Capital Improvement Program earlier this year.
Continental Airlines is beginning twice-weekly service between George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on December 16th. Punta Cana is a popular white-sand beach destination on the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic.
About 391,000 low-income Texans will see an increase in their electric bills because lawmakers drained a discount fund to balance the state budget. The Texas Public Utility Commission started notifying low-income homes yesterday that a ten percent discount on their bills will be discontinued next month. The average customer pays a 65-cent fee each month on their electric bills to raise about $200 million a year for the system benefit fund. But the money will be used for programs largely unrelated to electricity, including Medicaid. Representative Sylvester Turner of Houston says that shifting the funds is equivalent to a hidden tax. And consumer groups say that using the funds for an unrelated purpose constitutes improper accounting practices.
Dallas-based video rental chain Blockbuster today said it fell to a loss in the second quarter after eliminating late fees cut into its overall revenue. In the latest three-month period, Blockbuster reports a loss of $57.2 million dollars. That's compared with income of $48.6 million in last year's quarter. Setting aside one-time items, the company's adjusted loss amounted to $40.2 million. Quarterly revenue fell by two percent to $1.4 billion.