Tuesday October 25th, 2005

U. S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board recommends safer placement of trailers; preliminary findings into BP Texas City refinery explosion to be announced at public meeting...Hurricane Katrina evacuees impacts Houston apartment market...Puerto Rican companies visit Houston in trade mission...

The U. S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has issued two new urgent safety recommendations in its investigation of the March 23rd refinery mishap at BP Texas City, both calling for the safer placement of trailers for workers at petrochemical facilities throughout the United States. An existing safety guidance does not prohibit the placement of trailers in close proximity to hazardous process units.

Investigators on Thursday will offer preliminary findings into the deadly explosion. Fifteen people were killed and more than 170 were injured in the fiery blast at the BP unit. The public meeting will be held in Texas City. The accident was one of a series of fires and other safety problems at BP, which next month plans to issue a final report on the deadly explosion. BP operates refineries in Texas, California, Indiana, Washington and Ohio.

Former U. S. Secretary of State James Baker of Houston will head a panel investigating safety and management oversight at BP Products North America. The U. S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board in August urged BP to hire outside experts to look at the company's oversight of safety management systems. Baker says he will delve into the company's corporate culture and issue a public report within a year. BP chief executive John Browne says the panel will have BP's full support and cooperation.


The influx of Hurricane Katrina evacuees had a dramatic short-term impact on the Houston apartment market, according to the latest Houston Apartment Performance Update from O'Connor & Associates, with ten times the normal absorption rates and surging occupancy levels. In the month of September, 17,496 units were absorbed. Occupancies are expected to remain elevated, as many evacuees remaining in shelters and hotels will eventually need a more permanent form of housing in the months to come.


The impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were reflected in September's real estate sales market, according to the Houston Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service. Total sales for single-family homes in Houston decreased by 0.8 percent to 4,910 in September--the first year-over-year month decrease in 19 months. HAR says the evacuation of Houston and surrounding areas negatively impacted the month's sales figures, pushing quite a few closings into October. The average single-family sales price is now at $191,827.


Houston's office leasing market registered positive absorption for the sixth consecutive quarter, according to Grubb & Ellis. The annual net gain of nearly 1.5 million square feet through the close of the third quarter marks the highest absorption total since 2000. Houston's overall vacancy declined by 28 basis points to 17.9 percent, reaching its lowest level in 30 months.


A delegation of 13 companies from Puerto Rico are in Houston for the first Puerto Rico Trade Mission through Thursday at the Marriott Medical Center. The Puerto Rico Trade Company mission is to develop new business opportunities and to strengthen commercial ties with local partners such as the Greater Houston Partnership, the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the City of Houston.


Gazprom and its export subsidiary hosted a Russia/U. S. Energy Symposium at the Hilton-Americas today. Host Gazpromexport says the "Energy Vision to Link Our Nations" symposium is an initiative to develop a common vision for achieving energy cooperation and trade between Russia and the United States. Several U. S. oil executives took part in a roundtable with Russian Minister of Industry and Energy Victor Khristenko, including ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva.

James Mulva audio 1

Mulva says increased oil exports from Russia have provided a stabilizing influence on the international oil market.

James Mulva audio 2

Mulva says natural gas trade will be significant to both the United States and Russia.

James Mulva audio 3

Russia has more than a quarter of the world's proven gas reserves.


The consensus among oil analysts is that the age of cheap gas for the United States is gone for a while. And there could be some new price spikes. Price surges over the past couple of years have been partly because of unrest in key oil producing countries like Iraq and Nigeria. Then along came Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and American production capacity fell. Demand has dropped a little, but prices remain high. And Americans are simply not as used to high gasoline prices as are Europeans, who have learned to conserve more as a result of hefty government taxes at the pumps. The president of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation says there's not enough spare crude around any more to protect against price spikes. So he says the price of gas and oil is the only thing left to limit their use and their cost.


Astros fans without tickets to the third game of the 2005 World Series can again take part in a city-wide viewing party at Market Square Park in the downtown area, where there are two screening areas. Main Street between Rusk and Congress are closed to traffic between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. and parking is available at Market Square Garage on Milam and Chase Garage on Travis. The Downtown Entertainment District says many downtown bars and restaurants will be throwing their doors open early and keeping them open until late.


Hurricane Wilma has caused billions of dollars in insured damage and is creating headaches for thousands of airline passengers. Miami International Airport is the busiest U. S. hub for Latin American travel and the busiest state hub for foreign travel. At least 2,000 flights have been at South Florida's three major airports because of Wilma. Officials say normal service may not resume until mid-week. American Airlines spokesman John Hotard says Wilma basically has disrupted or stopped the traffic flowing from Latin America into North America. Fort Worth-based American has at least 500 scheduled flights per day into and out of Miami. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines was resuming service today at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.


Investment banks and private toll-road operators have shown interest leasing Harris County's 83-mile toll system for $2 billion to $7 billion--numbers that have got the attention of county officials. Harris County Judge Robert Eckels says such leases could replace the need for road bond referendums. And the interest could be used to pay for street construction, repairs and other transportation needs, such as commuter rail lines. Others question whether privatizing the toll road system would allow more secrecy about its operation. The Commissioners Court is expected to approve a study to determine the pros and cons of fully or partially privatizing the toll road. The plan includes asking certain investment banks to submit proposals.


New Times Media, which owns the Houston Press, is merging with Village Voice Media, according to the Houston Business Journal. Phoenix-based New Times acquired the Press in 1993.


Stewart & Stevenson Services is selling substantially all of the operating assets and business of its Power Products Division to Houston oil industry entrepreneur Hushang Ansary in a $180 million deal. The Power Products segment distributes, manufactures and services specialty power equipment and provides replacement parts and materials for the transportation, marine, construction, oilfield, power generation and material handling industries in the United States, Venezuela and Colombia.


Merrick Systems, a Houston oil industry software firm, has formed an alliance with NuTech Solutions and Advanced Resources International. The Intelligent Production-Optimization Alliance is being formed to help oil and gas companies tackle one of the toughest problems in the petroleum business, efficiently extracting fuels from heavy-oil fields, watered-out oil fields and non-conventional gas sources.


Halliburton remains intent on selling or spinning off KBR. But executives at the Houston-based oilfield-services conglomerate today told analysts that no such action is imminent. Its KBR Engineering and Construction Unit is the largest U. S. contractor in Iraq. Chief Financial Officer Cris Gaut said no timeline has been set for the separation of KBR. Gaut says they'll consider an initial public offering, as well as private transactions. Halliburton CEO Dave Lesar also says the company is working to resolve disputes with Pentagon auditors over contracts to rebuild Iraq's oil industry and supply fuel to its citizens. The company said KBR would announce results of those efforts to resolve allegations of overbilling once negotiations are complete.

Halliburton has reported a profit for the third quarter, reversing a year-ago loss. The construction and oilfield services giant has been buoyed by strong sales from its energy services unit. Quarterly profit rose to $499 million from a loss of $42 million last year. The loss in the year-ago period included a $230 million charge to settle asbestos and silica claims. Revenue rose to $5.1 billion, up six percent from last year's $4.79 billion. According to analysts, the results beat Wall Street projections for earnings but missed revenue expectations of $5.24 billion.


Texas Instruments shares have come under pressure in after-hours trading after the company told investors that revenues in the current quarter won't be as strong as some hoped. That's despite the fact that TI's third quarter profit rose 12 percent on strong sales of chips for mobile phones and electronic devices. The Dallas-based company had net income of $631 million. That includes three cents a share in expenses for stock options. The per-share profit was a penny ahead of analyst forecasts. Texas Instruments says the best growth was in chips for wireless devices and consumer electronics products, both posting double-digit percentage gains from a year ago. Chips for high-end televisions recovered after a weak first half of the year.


Burlington Northern Santa Fe today reports its third-quarter profit ballooned from the same quarter last year that included hefty charges. Net income for Fort Worth-based BNSF soared to $414 million. That compares to year-ago earnings for the railroad company of $2 million. Last year's results include a tax charge of $288 million, reflecting the company's altered estimate of its asbestos and environmental liabilities. BNSF revenue grew to $3.32 billion. That's up from $2.79 billion earned the previous year. BNSF Chairman Matthew Rose says demand for rail transportation continues to outpace the rest of the economy.


A Dell official says North Carolina's Piedmont Triad offered the "whole package'' of financial incentives--such as a central location, a ready work force and an eager political and business community. Dell Computers executive Kip Thompson yesterday outlined the Round Rock-based company's decision to build its largest plant in North Carolina. Thompson made the remarks at a Las Vegas conference of economic development officials and real estate executives. Dell opened the North Carolina plant earlier this month with plans to employ 700 people by the end of the year and 1,500 within five years. It's the company's third in the U. S. and its largest at more than 750,000 square feet. Dell was aggressively courted by North Carolina and local officials wanting to attract high-tech jobs to a region hit by the downturn in textile and furniture manufacturing.


Ziff Energy Group has announced the winners of the 6th annual Canadian Upstream Achievement awards. The upstream oil and gas consulting firm names Apache Canada, BP Canada Energy and Provident Energy Trust as Operating Cost Award winners. The Finding and Development Award winners include Anadarko Canada, Burlington Resources Canada and Talisman Energy.


Fulbright & Jaworski has received the Client Choice Award as the exclusive law firm for client service in the United States from the International Law Office. ILO serves as a media partner to the International Bar Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel, serving as a key portal through which law firms can communicate with clients. The award honors the wop law firm in 34 countries based on survey responses received from more than 1,000 corporate counsel.


The word "Dallas" on the building housing the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas was just a little too confusing for people passing by the structure. So it's gone. The sign that had read "Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas--Houston Branch'' has been shortened to "Federal Reserve Bank Branch.'' No Houston. No Dallas. The change comes just in time for Thursday's opening of the bank's new building near downtown. Bob Smith, senior vice president of the Houston branch, says the word Dallas "did conjure up some level of confusion.'' It was accurate because Houston is a branch of the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, which has been the headquarters for the fed's 11th district since the early 1900s. The word "Dallas'' in the sign was in the plans when the architects originally designed the building. Smith said that since it was the proper name for the branch, no one ever paid much attention to it. Smith says the cost of altering the sign was insignificant, because no new letters had to be created.


Bio photo of Ed Mayberry

Ed Mayberry

Local Anchor, All Things Considered

Ed Mayberry has worked in radio since 1971, with many of those years spent on the rock 'n' roll disc jockey side of the business...