Wednesday AM January 17th, 2007
by: Ed Mayberry, January 17, 2007 5:01:00 am
An independent panel says BP didn't emphasize operational safety at its U.S. refineries before the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15. The panel--led by former Secretary of State James Baker--said in a summary of its 300-page-plus report that BP had made strides in personal accident prevention but came up short on the bigger picture."Although BP aspired to be a safe company, BP had not made certain that its management and U.S. refining workforce understood what was expected of them regarding process safety performance. In addition, BP has not adequately established process safety as a core value across all of its five U.S. refineries."
The 11-member panel made ten recommendations--including that an independent monitor report to the company's board of directors for a period of five years. The federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board urged BP in August 2005 to hire outside experts to look at the company's oversight of safety management and make its findings public. But Baker said the panel was not charged with conducting an investigation into the causes of the mishap."We did not and we do not seek to affix blame or to apportion responsibility for that accident. The panel instead sought to understand why deficiencies in process safety performance existed at BP's five U.S. refineries so that we could make recommendations that could enable the company to improve."
The release of the report comes less than a week after London-based BP said Chief Executive John Browne would step down by the end of July, more than a year ahead of schedule. BP also operates refineries in California, Indiana, Washington and Ohio.
Oil prices have been falling sharply lately. Even in the face of that, the Saudi Arabian oil minister is saying there's no need for further OPEC production cuts. He calls the situation in the global crude market "very healthy.'' The comments come amid speculation that the cartel could call an emergency meeting to discuss further reduction in its production ceiling, in an attempt to keep crude from falling further. Venezuela's oil minister called for an extraordinary OPEC meeting to push for a fresh production cut. He says certain other OPEC countries back Venezuela's proposal, but did not name them. OPEC in recent months has committed to a total cut in output of 1.7 million barrels per day. That includes a 500,000 barrel-a-day reduction set to begin February 1st. OPEC's next scheduled meeting is in March, but some members have been considering further cuts before then. A conference on energy is being held in New Delhi. Before the Saudi official spoke, crude futures had dipped 13 percent since the beginning of the year.
The former United Nations Oil-for-Food chief was charged Tuesday with bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The charges against Benon Sevan of Cyprus are contained in a rewrite of an indictment stemming from the scandal over the UN program. The UN operated that program from 1996 to 2003 to permit the Iraqi government to sell oil primarily to buy food and medicine for suffering Iraqis. Authorities say the program was corrupted by bureaucrats, oil tycoons and Saddam Hussein. That's after the former Iraqi leader was allowed to choose the buyers of Iraqi oil and the sellers of humanitarian goods. Federal and state prosecutors also announced the indictment of Ephraim Nadler of Manhattan on the same charges. He allegedly helped a conspirator obtain the right to buy Iraqi oil under the program in exchange for commissions from the oil sales. He then allegedly funneled about $160,000 of those commissions to Sevan. If convicted, Sevan could face up to 50 years in prison while Nadler could face up to 112 years in prison. Several others accused in the conspiracy await trial, including Houston oilman Oscar Wyatt, Jr. He's pleaded not guilty.
Anadarko Petroleum Chairman and Chief Executive James Hackett has been appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Hackett's a former executive at Devon Energy and CEO at Ocean Energy. He'd also served on the board of the Dallas Fed's Houston branch. Anadarko's headquartered in Houston. Governors of the bank also reappointed Deputy Chairman Anthony Chase, whose chairman and CEO of Houston-based Chasecom and Chase Radio Partners. Each regional Federal Reserve Bank has a nine-member board of directors, including three representatives of banking.
Home builder Centex Corporation is telling of more weakness in the housing sector. It expects to report a fiscal third-quarter loss from continuing operations. Centex says it had more than 8,300 home closings during the quarter, a 12 percent decline from the prior year. Orders were down a sharper 24 percent at just over 6,100. The chairman and CEO of the Dallas-based company says it is "one of the most challenging housing environments in the past 25 years.'' Centex is to release quarterly earnings on January 23rd.
LATV has signed a deal with Detroit-based Post-Newsweek Stations to broadcast on four of its six VHF television stations, including KPRC-TV in Houston. LATV is a bilingual music and entertainment network, with production facilities here in Houston. Starting this spring, LATV's 24-hour network will be multicast on KPRC's digital signal as a standard-definition channel. LATV will also multicast on stations in Miami, Orlando and San Antonio.
The Internal Revenue Service program that lets taxpayers file their returns electronically is now up and running on the tax agency's Web site. Free File lets those with an adjusted gross income of $52,000 or less file their returns electronically at no charge. Twenty private companies are participating in the program this year. Changes this year include letting taxpayers request the excise tax refund, which for many will range from $30 to $60 and eliminating so-called refund anticipation loans from the program. In addition, two companies are offering Free File in Spanish.
American Airlines is upgrading its facilities in Tokyo in hopes of attracting passengers who connect to cities across Asia on partner carriers. Fort Worth-based American this month lost out on a bid to offer new direct service to China. The U.S. Department of Transportation gave tentative approval to United Airlines for seven new weekly flights to China. American is moving its operations at Narita International Airport to Terminal Two. That will mean shorter connecting times for passengers catching flights in the same terminal on Cathay Pacific, Qantas and Japan Airlines. Cathay Pacific and Qantas are partners with American in the OneWorld Alliance of Carriers. Japan Airlines is set to join OneWorld this year. Customers of one airline typically can earn and redeem frequent-flier miles on trips with alliance partners.
The second Peruvian consulate in Texas is expected to open later this year in the Dallas area--where authorities have been criticized for their handling of incidents involving citizens of Peru. The state's only Peruvian consulate in Houston estimates that up to 10,000 Peruvians live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It could take up to five months before the consulate opens because officials are trying to find a location, secure funding and transfer documents to Dallas. Gabriel Egusquiza, president of the Peruvian Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, says events in recent years highlight the need for a consulate nearby. Peru was among the Latin American nations who had citizens displaced by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast states in 2005. Last year, a Peruvian nanny was convicted of killing a 14-month-old boy from suburban McKinney. In 2005, a Peruvain man died, two weeks after police officers in Allen used pepper spray on him while responding to a suspicious person call.
Landry's Restaurants is offering to buy the Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse chain for about $64.5 million. The offer of $7.50 a share, which came after acquisition talks broke down, represents a 50 percent premium to Smith and Wollensky's closing price last Friday. Houston-based Landry's owns restaurants operating under the Landry's Seafood House, Chart House, Rainforest Caf? and Saltgrass Steak House names. It also owns the Vic and Anthony's and Grotto restaurants and manages the Golden Nugget Hotels and Casinos in Las Vegas and Laughlin, Nevada. There's been no comment from New York-based Smith and Wollensky.