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The Wall Street Journal: Oil News Roundup: September 7, 2006 8:10 p.m.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE
September 7, 2006 8:10 p.m.

Crude-oil prices fell again, approaching $67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, their lowest level in nearly five months, after U.S. government data showed gasoline and distillate stockpiles were higher than analysts had expected. Here is Thursday’s roundup of oil and energy news.

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BP GETS GRILLING: The former head of pipeline-corrosion monitoring for BP PLC in Alaska refused to testify under oath as outraged lawmakers grilled company officials over the causes of a massive oil spill earlier this year. Other BP executives apologized and pledged to fix operational lapses on the North Slope that led to the region’s biggest ever oil spill in March and the partial shutdown last month of the country’s largest oil field. Lawmakers said BP’s mistakes in Alaska — as well as its responsibility for a deadly refinery fire last spring — were particularly unacceptable given the industry’s record profits and the relatively inexpensive measures that might have prevented the oil spill.

•Duke Spinoff: Duke Energy Corp. filed with the SEC to spin off its natural-gas businesses to shareholders. Duke is using Gas Spinco Inc. as the temporary name of the new company. The spinoff is targeted for Jan. 1, 2007.

•OPEC on Hold: OPEC is expected to leave its formal crude-output limits unchanged when the cartel meets in Vienna Monday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

•Colombia Bucks Trend: Unlike other countries in South America, Colombia wants to privatize — not nationalize — part of its oil industry. But its plan faces opposition at home.

•Exxon Ships Russian Oil: Exxon Mobil said its Exxon Neftgas unit has started exporting oil from the Sakhalin-1 project in Russia. But Exxon also warned Russia to honor their production-sharing agreement.

•Problem for Peak Oilers: Chevron’s recent discovery of what may be a rich, new vein of oil in the Gulf of Mexico should quiet the “Peak Oil” crowd, BusinessWeek’s Mark Morrison opines.

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Wednesday’s Roundup:

BP FACES GRILLING: Already under siege by regulators and financial-market investigators, BP PLC faces a new inquisitor tomorrow: the U.S. Congress. In the first of as many as two Capitol Hill appearances in coming days, U.S. operations chief Bob Malone and other BP officials face a public grilling. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear testimony from experts and BP officials on corrosion problems at BP’s Prudhoe Bay oil field. While much new evidence isn’t expected this week, the intensified scrutiny risks a further public-relations backlash from consumers and politicians against BP and its CEO, John Browne.

•Delay in Iran Talks: Talks meant to give Iran a last chance to avoid U.N. sanctions over its nuclear defiance were postponed by several days. Worries about Iran’s tensions with the West have contributed to higher oil prices in recent months.

•Methane Threat: Methane gas trapped in soil is bubbling out of thawing permafrost in amounts five times higher than previously thought and may trigger what researchers warn is a climate time bomb, according to a study being published Thursday in the journal Nature.

•Energy IPOs: Clean Energy Fuels Corp., an operator of natural-gas filling stations that was co-founded by billionaire Boone Pickens, filed to raise up to $288 million in an initial public offering, and ethanol maker Hawkeye Holdings placed an estimated price range on its $431 million IPO.

•Marathon Strike Ends: Teamsters Local 120 said 170 Marathon Oil Corp. workers at a St. Paul Park, Minn., refinery ratified a three-year labor contract following a seven-week strike.

•Very Old Leak Discovered: A mysterious oil leak that has been killing seabirds and confounding wildlife and maritime officials off the California coast for more than a year was traced to a sunken World War I-era cement ship.

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