Monday September 19th, 2005
by: Ed Mayberry, September 19, 2005 5:09:00 am
Galveston will begin voluntary evacuations tomorrow in advance of Tropical Storm Rita, which is projected to make landfall at the end of the week along the Texas Gulf Coast. Galveston City Manager Steve LeBlanc said at a news conference that Rita could hit Galveston, and even though it's expected to be a Category 3, the city is planning for a Category 4. Voluntary evacuations are set to begin at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas says a fleet of 88 buses will begin transporting residents off the island beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Rita is expected to pass south of the Florida Keys by tomorrow before heading into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, according to the U. S. National Hurricane Center. The storm is forecast to reach Texas by Saturday, sweeping past the coastal region devastated by Hurricane Katrina last month.
State officials are making plans in case Tropical Storm Rita becomes a hurricane and heads for Texas. William Ayres with the Division of Emergency Management says authorities are monitoring the storm--and they're preparing for it. Extra meetings are being held by State Emergency Management officials in Austin. They'll make state resources available if local authorities ordered evacuations along the Texas Coast. Ayres says such evacuations are a local decision--but the state will help if needed. The lower Florida Keys were being evacuated today as Rita threatened to grow into a hurricane with a potential eight-foot storm surge.
OPEC oil ministers are now expressing their concern about a new tropical storm threatening the hurricane-ravaged U. S. Gulf Coast. This as OPEC considers how to address worries over rising oil prices and winter fuel supplies. The OPEC president, who is also Kuwait's oil minister, says support was building for a proposal to make available two million extra barrels of oil a day. The cartel maintains that it is refinery capacity and not supply that is putting pressure on prices. Oil ministers were to resume debate Tuesday on that proposal and another option, which would boost the group's current output ceiling of 28 million barrels a day by 500,000 barrels.
Kuwait is talking with the Bush administration about building an oil refinery in the United States, which would be the nation's first new plant in three decades. Kuwait's oil minister is seeking a joint venture partner and White House assistance in gaining the necessary permits.
France will urge the United States and other countries to boost investment in oil refining and alternative energy. French Finance Minister Thierry Breton has threatened oil companies in France with a windfall tax on their gains from high oil prices unless they increase their refinery investment. Paris-based Total agreed last week to new gasoline pricing dicisplines and promised increased investment in French refineries.
More than half of the Gulf Coast region's offshore oil production remains cut off from market today--and you can blame it on the weather. It's been three weeks since Hurricane Katrina tore into the Gulf Coast. Now Tropical Storm Rita is threatening the Gulf of Mexico. Following a survey of 54 energy companies, the Minerals Management Service reports 83 of the 819 staffed production platforms in the Gulf are evacuated. That compares with 84 on Friday. Today's shut-downs block nearly 838,000 barrels of oil and 3.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The agency said it's impossible to tell from its survey how many platforms have been re-evacuated because of Rita's threat.
Faced with sharply rising energy prices, Americans say they want to see more conservation and more production of oil and gas. Eight in ten people say in a new survey that people driving SUV's should switch to more fuel-efficient vehicles. The poll was conducted by the Pew Center for the People and the Press. Almost seven in ten say they favor price controls on gasoline and more government spending on mass transit. More than eight in ten say they want higher fuel efficiency standards on cars and trucks. And almost 60 percent say the search for new energy sources is more important than environmental protection. Three years ago, they were evenly divided.
U. S. Senator John Cornyn says he and other lawmakers are working to ensure Texas is reimbursed completely for the money it spends on providing health care and education to refugees of Hurricane Katrina. Texas is among dozens of states housing Katrina refugees, so there will be competition for federal funding. Cornyn says work to build a political coalition with other states is already underway. He made his comments at a news conference with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Texas schools have taken in an estimated 40,000 students. Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley has estimated that the state will spend $7,500 per Texas student in the 2005-2006 school year.
House Republicans want spending cuts to pay for Gulf Coast recovery. Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana says dramatic cuts are needed in "big-ticket items.'' Pence tells ABC's "This Week'' he also wants President Bush's tax cuts made permanent. Democrats have some questions about that. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware tells CNN's "Late Edition'' the government's "not leveling with the American people.'' Democratic Senator Barak Obama of Illinois says talk of repealing the estate tax now is "mind-boggling.'' He tells CBS' "Face the Nation'' the country could not fight a war in Iraq, rebuild the Gulf Region and deal with other domestic needs while cutting taxes for the wealthy.
A new pilot program by the Department of Housing and Urban Development is offering some help to residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The "Welcome Home Project'' is providing 100 rent-free homes for refugees in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. The program places families in empty HUD-owned homes rent-free for 18 months. Appliances are being provided and a private anonymous donor is furnishing the homes at no cost. The program has placed ten families so far. Homeowners are still responsible for utilities such as water and electricity. Families can apply for the program with HUD, but FEMA and the Interfaith Housing Coalition, a local non-profit, are placing the families. Recipient Patricia Livas of New Orleans said her new single story, three bedroom home in southern Dallas promises some stability as she tries to care for two sons and look for a new job in the technology field.
Entergy says electrical service has been restored to more than 80 percent of 1.1 million customers affected by Hurricane Katrina. The utility company says about 216,000 customers are without power as of today, mostly in the flooded areas of Orleans, Saint Bernard, and Plaquemines Parishes. Entergy says it will shut off gas service in many areas of New Orleans before repairs are made, and it already shut off gas to the city's east and ninth ward. The New Orleans-based company, which has operations in Texas, has 29 lines and 23 substations out of service in its transmission CV system.
Hilton Hotel says most of its hotels in areas affected by Hurricane Katrina reported minor damage. But, according to one of the nation's largest hotel companies, some locations will be closed longer-term, particularly in New Orleans. Hilton says certain hotels will be closed longer due to cleanup efforts and water damage. Other locations suffered less significant water leaks, broken windows and minor stucco damage. The company says employees at the closed hotels in the New Orleans area are being paid at their normal rates through the end of this month.
A newspaper review has found that of the 119 refineries, chemical and natural gas-processing plants that reported accidental releases of pollution in the Houston area last year, 81 percent were caused by just 12 facilities. The Houston Chronicle reported that the BP Texas City refinery, where 15 people died and 170 were injured in a March explosion, reported the most of any facility in 2004, with 109 accidental emissions. The data was provided by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which for the past two years has posted company reports about pollution leaks on the Internet. Some companies say the numbers in the database were wrong, while others called the figures deceiving. Valero's Texas City refinery says in a statement that larger companies may report emissions more thoroughly than smaller companies.
An explosion and fire at a gas pipeline terminal in southwest Ohio overnight has killed one person. The explosion and fire happened late last night at a Monroe, Ohio terminal owned by Houston-based Texas Eastern Products Pipeline Company. Firefighters from Monroe and nearby Middletown battled the blaze that witnesses said sent flames shooting 300 feet into the air. The propane gas fueling the fire has been shut off and firefighters say they'll let the blaze burn itself out. Investigators say the explosion may have been caused by a faulty valve. A Texas Eastern spokeswoman said today that a pipeline itself did not explode. Rather, Allison Nelson says propane escaped from the pipeline and found an ignition source. Nelson confirmed that a worker was the person killed. She wouldn't reveal the name or any other details until relatives could be notified. Monroe is an industrial city about 25 miles north of Cincinnati.
Norsk Hydro says it is buying Houston-based oil and gas company Spinnaker Exploration for more than $2.4 billion. The Oslo-based company says the deal has been approved by the boards of both companies and is expected to be completed before the end of the year. Hydro says it is paying $65.50 a share in cash. In addition, it is assuming approximately $110 million in net interest-bearing debt. The deal is subject to approval of Spinnaker shareholders and U. S. regulators. Spinnaker has production and exploration interests primarily in the Gulf of Mexico. The company's shares were up more than 30 percent in reaction to the news.
Jiffy Lube International has sold 68 company-owned quick-service oil-change outlets in Houston and three other Texas cities to Allied Lube. Houston-based Jiffy Lube is a subsidiary of Shell Oil. There are 44 Jiffy Lube stores in the Houston area. With the purchase, Allied Lube becomes the third-largest franchisee in the Jiffy Lube system, with 105 locations in Texas, Colorado and California.
Compass Bancshares is acquiring Fort Worth-based TexasBanc Holding company, the parent company of TexasBank. That will create the fifth-largest bank in the state. The combined company will operate 163 banking centers in the Lone Star state, including 42 in Houston.
A Texas company has dropped plans for a landfill along a trail that commemorates the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march. Landfill opponents had fought the Waste Management Project with lawsuits and protests. Houston-based Waste Management has told the Alabama environmental agency that it's withdrawing an application to build a landfill near Lowndesboro. Company spokeswoman Lynn Brown today said Waste Management decided to drop the application because of pending legal action and general business reasons. She says the landfill dispute had been in the courts so long that additional landfill space had become available in the area. U. S. 80 between Selma and Montgomery is the 50-mile route that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and others marchers to back the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
A company that verifies checks for retailers agreed to pay $450,000 over a lawsuit alleging harassment when trying to collect debts. The money will be placed in a trust fund and used on consumer protection projects. West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office sued Telecheck Services of Houston, Telecheck Recovery Services of Denver and Telecheck West Virginia after his office received 35 complaints. Some people whose checkbooks had been stolen say they were harassed by Telecheck debt collectors. Other consumers complained they were publicly embarrassed when the cashier told them Telecheck had identified them as someone who had written a bad check. In the settlement, Telecheck did not admit to violating any laws or any rules. The company now will ask customers not to post near cash registers the names of individuals who may have written bad checks. It also agreed not to contact people at their work site in an attempt to collect a bad debt.
A special committee of the 7-11 board continues its review of a buyout offer by the convenience-store operator's Japanese parent. As a result, the company wants its stockholders to hold off tendering their shares. The committee says it should complete the review of 7-11 Japan's tender offer "in the near future.'' It could recommend that shareholders accept or reject the offer, or it make no recommendation. The Dallas-based chain operates or franchises about 5,800 stores in the U. S. and Canada and licenses more than 22,000 around the world. Seven-Eleven Japan owns about 73 percent of the U. S. company's stock. It's offering $1.2 billion for the rest of it.
A bid by Fossil has broken down for a lucrative deal to replace Timex as maker and distributor of Guess watches. Richardson-based Fossil said today it has ended talks with Guess over a ten-year deal beginning in January 2007 to make Guess and Guess Collection watches. The companies had said last month they were in advanced negotiations for a deal expected to result in wholesale sales of $1.36 billion. But Timex sued Fossil in federal court in California, contending the proposed deal with Guess violated antitrust laws and its agreement with Guess. That deal expires at the end of next year. Fossil makes its own watches and accessories under brands including Fossil and Relic. It also operates its own stores and holds licenses to make watches for DKNY, Emporio Armani, Diesel and others.
First, Houston's Oilers and Astros moved out of the Astrodome. Now, the Astroworld theme park just across Loop 610 from the Dome is scheduled to close for the last time at the end of this season. It's a time of sadness and reminiscence for the family of Judge Roy Hofheinz, who masterminded the construction of Houston's top two attractions in the 1960s. The judge's son, former Houston Mayor Fred Hofheinz, says his father had already gotten the Astrodome project started when he saw Six Flags over Texas in Arlington in the early 1960s. Hofheinz says his father--who also had served as Houston mayor and Harris County judge--decided Houston needed a theme park. So he and Fred built Astroworld, while daughter Dene Hofheinz Anton developed the creative concepts. The Hofheinz family owned the park for the first seven years of its operation before selling it to the Six Flags chain in 1975. Six Flags recently announced the park has been losing money and that the land would be more valuable if sold to developers.
A 1990's shopping spree sowed the seeds of destruction for Six Flags amusement parks. The spree ended in 1998, when Oklahoma City-based Premier Parks bought the Six Flags chain of parks for almost $2 billion and took on the Six Flags name. Now it finds itself saddled with more than $2 billion in debt and the company is up for sale in the middle of a proxy battle. Six Flags includes 30 parks throughout North America, including parks in Houston, San Antonio and Arlington. Ned DeWitt served as Six Flags president from 1973 to 1982--before the buying spree started--and says the string of purchases didn't make sense. He says the "acquisition mania'' put the chain into what he calls "all kinds of properties they just couldn't bring value to.'' Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has already bought almost 12 percent of the company. He says the company needs to be streamlined. He'd like to increase his holdings and oust the current management team. That includes Kieran Burke, the CEO and chairman who presided over the buying spree.