Monday June 19th, 2006

Oil executives defend record profits...Deer Park residents shelter-in-place after benzene release...Internal auditors hear from Continental chairman and CEO...

Americans paying $3 per gallon at the pump have it relatively cheap when compared with prices globally. That's what oil and gas company executives who defend their record profits as essential to maintaining supplies say. ConocoPhillips Chairman James Mulva says gas prices are more like $5 per gallon to $7 per gallon in parts of Europe and elsewhere in the west. Mulva and two other executives who appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press'' said they are optimistic about keeping a lid on domestic prices--unless their fears come true about the potential for damage to U.S. energy production from the hurricane season that began June 1st. Scientists say this year's season could produce 16 named storms--six of them major hurricanes. Last year's was the most destructive on record and the busiest in 154 years of storm tracking, with a record 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes.


Deer Park residents near the Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant were asked to shelter-in-place for about three hours midday, after the floating roof of a chemical storage tank tipped open under the weight of pooling water. The tank roof rises and falls with the level of the content in the tank. The incident exposed chemicals, including benzene, to the atmosphere. The vapor release caused the warning to be issued for areas north of San Augustine Street between Center and Georgia Streets, and Highway 225 from Battle Ground Road to Beltway 8. Foam was applied to the tank to minimize vapors. Also, the heavy rain caused the floating roof on a storage tank to collapse at Georgia Gulf Chemicals and Vinyls in Pasadena, causing benzene to pool on top of it.

A barge carrying steel coils broke free from a tow boat and sank in Greens Bayou, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The barge is limiting water access to at least one refinery and five other facilities. Greens Bayou enters the north side of the Houston Ship Channel north of Pasadena. The sunken barge is not blocking the main ship channel.


Continental Airlines chairman and CEO Larry Kellner talked about ethics during the general session of the Institute of Internal Auditor's International Conference at the Hilton Americas--Downtown. The institute represents the internal audit profession globally, serving some 122,000 members working as internal auditors, governance, internal control, IT auditing, government auditing, education and security. More than 2,500 internal auditors will discuss ethics, integrity, fraud and the impact and implication of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation through Wednesday at the conference.


Lafayette, Louisiana-based Stone Energy says it's considering a new buyout offer from New Orleans-based Energy Partners as superior to one it accepted from Houston-based Plains Exploration and Production in April. The Houston Business Journal reports Plains has been given until June 23rd to increase its offer.


Two operating units of Houston-based Willbros Group and its Oman unit have been awarded more than $300 million in project contracts. The Houston Business Journal says the company will install 71 miles of 42-inch natural gas pipeline in North Louisiana for CenterPoint Energy beginning in October, with completion by February 2007. A Willbros engineering division based in Tulsa, Oklahoma has a new contract with Guardian Pipeline to provide services for an expansion and extension project in Wisconsin and Illinois. And the Willbros unit Oman Construction Company in Muscat, Oman will undertake maintenance activities and small capital projects for Occidental of Oman.


The top executive of BP America will be replaced by an executive who has been running BP Shipping. Robert Malone will replace Ross Pillari, who is retiring. Malone will be based in Houston. BP has some 7,000 employees in the Houston area. Another executive will be named soon to lead BP operations in Canada and Latin America.


Houston Community College has broken ground on a new central utilities plant at its Central College, as the result of a bond election held in November 2003. The central utilities plant at Alabama and Austin will contain mechanical and electrical equipment, chemical storage and IT rooms. HCC plans the building or renovation of more than a dozen facilities at five college campuses. A new Learning Hub/Science building is planned.


The Consumer Federation of America says many traditional real estate brokers and their associations are operating as a "cartel'' to stifle competition and set prices. According to a CFA report, it's all designed to protect the six- or seven-percent commissions traditional brokers usually earn. The report says they do this by discriminating against non-traditional brokers and other service providers, controlling listing services and taking advantage of the lack of consumer knowledge and flexibility--among other things. The federation says consumers can protect themselves in a number of ways, including finding out whom their broker represents--if anyone--and negotiating commission levels.


Houston-based BPZ Energy has signed a memorandum of understanding with SUEZ Energy in Peru to evaluate the sale of natural gas from BPZ's Corvina field as fuel for a planned 180-megawatt gas-fired thermoelectric power plant, according to the Houston Business Journal. BPZ has properties in Peru and Ecuador.


State election officials are making final checks of voter signatures collected by independent gubernatorial candidates Carole Keeton Strayhorn and Kinky Friedman, with the help of a Houston company. The Texas Secretary of State's office hired a private firm, Tela Technologies of Houston, for electronic data entry. Those electronic documents were due back to the state today so election officials can check the names against in-house voter registration databases. So says Secretary of State's office spokesman Scott Haywood. He says an announcement on whether Strayhorn and Friedman make the ballot could come by Wednesday. Strayhorn is the Texas State Comptroller, and Friedman's a musician and writer. They each had to gather 40,540 signatures from registered Texas voters who didn't vote in the Republican or Democratic primaries this Spring. They turned in their petitions last month. Strayhorn submitted some 223,000 signatures, while Friedman submitted almost 170,000.


Woodlands-based PharmaFrontiers has changed its name to Opexa Therapeutics and effected a one-for ten reverse split of its stock, according to the Houston Business Journal. The changes were approved at the therapy firm's 2006 annual meeting last week. The company's new ticker symbol is now "OTCBB:OPXA." PharmaFrontiers acquired Houston-based Opexa Pharmaceuticals in November 2004. The company hopes to treat diabetes and multiple sclerosis by using adult stem cells drawn from a patient's own blood.


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has reached an agreement with Chevron to undertake measures to halt the sale of tobacco products to minors. Chevron signed the agreement with Texas and 27 other states and the District of Columbia, impacting over 9,300 stores. The company is implementing an electronic age verification system, including a feature to disable a cash register when the sale of a tobacco product is recorded. Chevron will also refrain from displaying self-serve tobacco kiosks, vending machines, free samples and cigarette look-alike products. The AG's office has secured similar agreements with CVS Pharmacy, ConocoPhillips, 7-Eleven, Wal-Mart, BP Amoco, Walgreen's and Exxon Mobil.


Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express has opened in Sugar Land in The Market at Town Center. It's Puck's second restaurant in the Houston area. The first outlet is at The Carillion Center on Westheimer.


Houston-based real estate management and investment company Land Tejas has donated $1 million to St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, according to the Houston Business Journal. The gift is earmarked to help strengthen the nursing program. The funds will help provide scholarships for associate degree nursing candidates and for the Patient Care Assistant Summer Externship Program at St. Luke's.


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...