Wednesday January 4th, 2006

Lay and Skilling trial issues discussed...Re-sentencing hearing delayed for Dynegy executive...Houston city employees submit petitions at City Hall calling for union election...

Ex-Enron founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling have again asked a judge to move their impending trial out of Houston.  The two are closely examining those who may potentially decide whether they illegally schemed to mislead investors. Skilling's attorney says questionnaires filled out by potential jurors so far "reaffirm that the Houston jury pool is deeply infected with pervasive and irreversible bias against the defendants.'' They face trial January 30th on charges including fraud and conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake also is considering a Skilling request to bar prosecutors from using certain testimony he gave to the Securities and Exchange Commission over a September 2001 stock trade. Skilling is charged with ten counts of insider trading, including that trade of half-a million Enron shares for more than $15 million. The hearing comes a week after former Enron chief accountant Richard Causey pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. He's the 16th ex-Enron executive to plead guilty and a potentially powerful witness against his former bosses.

A judge in Houston pushed back re-sentencing of a former Dynegy executive whose 24-year term has been thrown out. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake will allow experts to hash out how long Jamie Olis should remain behind bars. Olis was to have been re-sentenced today. But Lake called a surprise hearing to tell lawyers for both sides that he wants to hear expert testimony first. Two co-conspirators of Olis will be sentenced as planned, but he'll have to wait until later this month. Olis was convicted of fraud and conspiracy in late 2003. The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in October upheld the conviction of Olis for his role in a scheme to disguise debt as cash flow. But the judges said lake improperly applied federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors want Olis to serve at least 15 years. The defense says Olis should serve no more than five years in prison.

Russian and Ukrainian natural gas companies have agreed to resume gas shipments to Ukraine. Their plan allows both sides to claim victory after a commercial and political dispute that had raised fears of gas shortages in Europe. A complex pricing plan that Russia and Ukraine agreed to drew in a third company: a Russian-Swiss trading business that will be the sole gas provider to Ukraine. Europe gets about a quarter of its gas from Russia, with some 80 percent arriving in pipelines that cross Ukraine. Russia stopped selling natural gas to its neighbor on Sunday as their price dispute reached a climax. European customers reported a sharp drop-off in gas supplies on Monday.

Houston city employees have submitted petitions at City Hall calling for a union election. The workers are positioning for some 20,000 employees to join the Service Employees International Union on the heels of a November decision by Houston janitors to join SEIU. The union has more than 1.8 million members nationwide.

Dallas-based Hunt Oil and Madrid-based Repsol YPF will sign a contract on January 12th to mark the start of a $2 billion project to export natural gas from Peru to the United States and Mexico. Construction of a liquified natural gas plant on Peru's south coast will be completed in mid-2009.

Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum and California-based Chevron are announcing a new deepwater oil discovery at their Big Foot Prospect about 225 miles south of New Orleans. Houston-based Plains Exploration & Production and Shell Exploration & Production also have working interests in the discovery.

The marketing unit of El Paso Corporation has sold a power purchasing agreement with Cordova Energy for $177 million. The tolling agreement extends to 2019, associated with the 540-megawatt natural gas-fired Cordova plant in Rock Island County, Illinois. The agreement calls for the power plant owner to charge the purchaser a toll for allowing the fuel to pass through the plant.

Houston-based Benchmark Polymer Products is selling its guar and guar derivative business to the Aqualon unit of Delaware-based Hercules, according to the Houston Business Journal. Guar is a drought-tolerant herb whose seeds yield a gum used as a thickening agent or sizing material. Benchmark is a developer and supplier of specialty chemicals for the oil and gas pressure pumping services industry.

Ground will be broken in March on West Dallas near Montrose on a $50 million apartment project, according to the Houston Chronicle. San Antonio businessman B>J> "Red" McCombs plans to build the 404-unit four-story complex at the former site of a CenterPoint Energy meter-reading facility. The unnamed project will be completed by the end of next year.

The First Crossing master-planned business development by Wolff Companies now includes the three-story Kelsey-Seybold Fort Bend Medical and Diagnostic Center. First Crossing will also be the home of a new Compass Bank financial center, which is under construction.

Continental Airlines reported a load factor of 78.9 percent in its year-end report. The Houston-based air carrier's traffic rose 9.6 percent in 2005. Continental says for December, consolidated passenger revenue per available seat mile increased between seven and eight percent compared to a year ago.

Energy supplier Mirant has announced that it has emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company sought bankruptcy protection in July of 2003 in Fort Worth. Since then, Mirant has reduced its work force, shaved billions in debt from its rolls and installed a new chief executive. The Atlanta-based company says it's secured nearly $2.4 billion worth of exit financing. The company has applied for re-listing with the New York Stock Exchange and expects to begin trading on January 11th under the ticker symbol MIR.

Foster Wheeler today announced its U.S. subsidiary has won a contract with a Houston-area power company for air-cleaning systems. Foster Wheeler will provide AES Deepwater of Pasadena with products designed to improve air quality and reduce smokestack emissions. The systems are scheduled to begin operation in the spring of 2007. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed. Foster Wheeler is based in Bermuda, with operational headquarters in Clinton, New Jersey.

The Women's Business Enterprise Alliance has awarded Connie Rankin of Customized Real Estate Services its 2006 Star Award. The award is given to a woman business owner who has proven success in business, community and in leadership by helping other women-owned businesses achieve success.

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...