Thursday AM June 28th, 2007

Gasoline inventories drop...BP report: energy consumption growth moderated last year, even as world economy accelerated...CardTronics non-bank ATMs to improve access for blind consumers...

Oil futures have reversed course, trading higher following news of a surprise drop last week in gasoline inventories. The Energy Department reports gasoline supplies were down by 700,000 barrels last week. Analysts were forecasting an increase of 1.1 million barrels. Stockpiles of crude were up 1.6 million barrels, while inventories of distillates, which include heating oil and diesel fuel, were down 2.3 million barrels. Refinery activity picked up last week, rising nearly two percent--to 89.4 percent of capacity.

Growth in global energy consumption slowed in 2006, despite stronger economic growth, according to the 2006 BP Statistical Review of World Energy. BP's Mark Finley talked about the 56th annual report at the Baker Institute Energy Forum at Rice University.

"Energy consumption growth last year moderated even though the world's economy accelerated. Globally, thee growth of energy consumption was close to the ten-year average, even though the world's economy was very strong. We saw particular strength in coal consumption growth around the world. In fact, coal remains the fastest-growing fuel in the world largely because coal has enjoyed an increasing cost advantage as increases in the price of natural gas and oil have exceeded increases in coal prices. The fuel that has seen the most rapid price increase--oil—was the fuel that saw the weakest growth in consumption. The carbon intensity of the world's energy consumption is actually increasing. Carbon emissions are rising not only because of rising energy consumption, but because the carbon content of the energy that's being consumed is actually rising, because of the growing role of coal in the world."

Finley says energy prices remain high, although price movements in 2006 vary by fuel type and region.

"The world's economy is growing very strongly, and yet oil consumption growth was half the historical average. Our energy consumption is just, it's an input into the economy. You know, it's how the economy works, and so generally you see a very strong correlation between how the economy is doing and how energy is doing. The fact that this year, the world's economy grew faster and energy consumption grew slower suggests that it's, you know, the ‘something else' is price. Coal for along time was losing market share globally. You know, it didn't, it was perceived as not being environmentally friendly. You know, as the prices of natural gas and oil have risen around the world, we find that people use more coal. And they use more coal, you know, anywhere around the world. I guess it shouldn't surprise me because it's what I do for a living, but I continue to be impressed by, you know, how efficient the world's energy markets really are, and how well they respond to the kinds of stimulus that we see in the form of price changes."

Global oil consumption grew by 0.7 percent in 2006—the weakest growth since 2001 and half the ten-year average. The BP report says natural gas and coal prices fell in North America in 2006, but increased elsewhere.


The biodiesel industry has been trying to find a use for waste glycerin—the major byproduct of biodiesel production. One pound of glycerin is produced for every ten pounds of biodiesel. New findings from Rice University suggest a possible answer in the form of a bacterium that ferments glycerin and produces ethanol. The biological conversion uses a microorganism that can eat a specific chemical feedstock and excrete something useful. Rice has identified the metabolic processes and conditions that allow a known strain of E. coli to convert glycerin into ethanol.


The nation's largest owner of non-bank ATMs is trying to improve access for blind consumers around the country. Houston-based CardTronics will soon begin making available ATMs that are accessible to the blind, under a deal with the National Federation of the Blind and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Top current outlets will be able to upgrade to voice-guided machines. The voice guidance technology, which is commonly available in many bank ATMs, is activated by plugging headphones into a jack on the machines. CardTronics operates about 24,000 ATMs in pharmacies, gas stations and Target department stores.


For the next five years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will transform Fort Bliss with one its largest army projects. That's as the El Paso-area army post more than doubles its population with the addition of 15,000 troops from ground combat units. The 1.2 million-acre post is now home to 14,000 troops and the army's air defense artillery school. It's losing the school--which has become its trademark. But it's getting more boots--lots of them. The planned transformation includes about $3 billion in construction expected to be completed by 2011. By then, Fort Bliss will be home to nearly 30,000 soldiers. Colonel Bob Burns is the Post Garrison Commander at Fort Bliss. He says some of changes were prompted by overhaul recommendations from the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Others resulted from army efforts to change where and how its forces train. Army officials say Fort Bliss was selected for expansion in part because of its size.


A UN report says some 3.3 billion people--more than half the world's population--will live in cities by next year. And by the year 2030, there could be nearly five billion people living in cities. But the "State of the World Population 2007'' says without proper planning, the cities won't be ready for the increased population. It says if cities across the globe aren't prepared, they face the threat of overwhelming poverty, limited opportunities for youth and religious extremism. The report says birth rates are driving urban population growth, not migration from rural areas. It says family planning policies will be most effective in slowing urban growth. The population growth mainly will affect smaller cities--with 500,000 people or more. The report found cities often try to keep the poor away by limiting migration and cutting lower-income housing. But it says investing in the poor can generate economic growth for cities.


Several Houston hospitals will receive the TMF Health Quality Institute's 2007 Texas Health Care Quality Improvement award. Hospitals honored include: Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center, East Houston Regional Medical Center, Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital and Park Plaza Hospital. Also being honored are Pasadena's Bayshore Medical Center and Gulf Coast Medical Center in Wharton. Winning the Award of Excellence will be: Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, Memorial Herman Northwest Hospital, The Methodist Hospital and West Houston Medical Center in Houston, Christus St. Catherine Health and Wellness Center and Memorial Hermann Katy Hospital in Katy, Kingwood Medical Center in Kingwood, Memorial Hermann Sugar Land Hospital in Sugar Land, Mainland Medical Center in Texas City and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital in The Woodlands. A total of 88 hospitals will receive the award today at the Hilton in Austin.


A Houston-area boss who wanted to thank his top workers gave them a way to hit the road. The president of a La Porte heat treatment company called Texas Stress decided he'd let the employees pick out Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Gary Hagar says his employees mean so much to the company. Hagar decided on the Harleys because his wife, Joni, gave him one of those motorcycles for his 50th birthday--and he loves the gift. KTRK television reports each of the ten top workers was given a $21,000 budget to purchase a bike. The rest of the company's 20 employees will also get bonuses--with details to be announced later.


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...