Wednesday PM April 4th, 2007

Retrials ordered for former Merrill Lynch employees...DOE approves KBR-related coal-fired power plant using technology to reduce emissions...Chevron Phillips Chemical approves $200 million expansion of Borger plant...

Three former Merrill Lynch executives will be retried in January on conspiracy and wire fraud charges in connection with an Enron deal. James Brown, Daniel Bayly and Robert Furst were convicted in 2004 for helping push through Enron's sale of three power barges in Nigeria to the brokerage, but an appeals court overturned most of those convictions. Jurors also convicted William Fuhs of Merrill Lynch and Dan Boyle, a former Enron finance executive. The jury acquitted in-house Enron accountant Sheila Kahanek. The Fuhs convictions were erased for lack of evidence. U.S. District Judge Ewing Werlein, Jr., scheduled jury selection for a January 28th, 2008 retrial.


The U.S. Department of Energy has approved a $569 million, 285-megawatt coal-fired power plant co-owned by Houston-based KBR, Atlanta-based Southern Company and the Orlando Utilities Commission, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Orlando plant will use advanced technology to reduce emissions. The DOE is providing 41 percent of the funding, or $235 million. It's one of three in the second round of President Bush's Clean Coal Power Initiative, a ten-year, $2 billion demonstration program to improve existing U.S. coal-fired plants. The other projects are with Houston-based ConocoPhillips, which has partnered with Minnesota-based Excelsior Energy to build a 531-megawatt plant in Minnesota. The third project is the Pegasus Technology Project, being run by California-based Pegasus Technologies and NRG Texas.


Chevron Phillips Chemical has approved a $200 million expansion at its Borger plant. The company plans to build a 22 million pound-per-year polyphenylene sulfide unit next to an existing one, pushing production capacity to 44 million pounds annually. The expansion is expected to add jobs and bring long-term economic stability to Hutchinson County. Polyphenylene sulfide is marketed by the company as Ryton. Plant manager Doug Digman says the project is expected to be completed in early 2009. County commissioners recently supported a seven-year tax abatement for the project.

ConocoPhillips reports oil and natural gas production likely fell in the first quarter--compared to one year ago. But Houston-based ConocoPhillips says worldwide refining margins are likely significantly higher to start 2007. The nation's third-largest oil company offered an overview of market and operating conditions for the first three months of the year. ConocoPhillips also cited lower crude oil prices versus the year-ago quarter. Natural gas prices were down from one year ago, but are up slightly from the fourth quarter of 2006. Analysts have said a cold snap to start the year boosted natural gas demand in the U.S.


Authorities say a lightning strike is blamed for a fire today at the BP plant in Texas City. BP spokesman Neil Geary says lightning struck a stormwater surge tank, and the top started on fire. There are no reports of anyone hurt. Company crews fought the blaze atop a tank holding wastewater mixed with some oil products. A March 2005 fiery explosion at the BP plant in Texas City left 15 people dead and about 170 hurt.


Now in its 15th year, Lotto Texas' sales are dropping sharply. So are the size of its jackpots and the number of big winners, according to state officials and lottery critics. Tonight's $72 million jackpot apparently isn't generating much public interest. As of late yesterday, sales for the drawing with the biggest estimated jackpot in two-and-a-half years were $1.2 million. Most draws this year have generated only about $3 million. By comparison, a single drawing for an $85 million jackpot on March 7th, 2001, generated $50 million in sales. Lottery revenues are down across the country. Texas lottery spokesman Bobby Heith says sales are down 30 percent in Texas since 2003 as officials across the country come to terms with jackpot fatigue. He says more people are opting to play instant-win scratch-off games.


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...