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The WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE: Oil News Roundup: Thursday June 8, 2006

Oil prices tumbled $1.68 to settle at less than $71 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange Wednesday after the U.S. government reported swelling inventories of crude and distillates. Also weighing on prices were more signs of progress toward a peaceful resolution of the West’s dispute with Iran. Here is Wednesday’s roundup of oil and energy news.

GREENSPAN ON OIL: As Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan spent many an hour on Capitol Hill answering (or not answering) lawmakers’ questions about subjects having little or nothing to do with his lookout, monetary policy. Today, in his first trip back to Congress as a private citizen, Mr. Greenspan spent some time talking about one such subject: oil prices. The former Fed chair said flexibility has helped the U.S. economy withstand pricey petrol for the most part, but added that consumers seemed near the end of their ropes and that energy prices might finally be having an impact on growth. Perhaps more interestingly, Mr. Greenspan also jabbed a sharp finger in the eye of the powerful farm lobby, saying corn-based ethanol was probably not the economy’s salvation, encourging more research into cellulosic ethanol, made of sawgrass, wood chips and other materials.

MORE TROUBLE IN NIGERIA: Just three days after a Nigerian militant organization released a group of eight kidnapped foreign oil workers, a second militant group seized more. Gunmen affiliated with the Movement for the Emancipation for the Niger Delta attacked a gas plant owned by Royal Dutch Shell and took five South Korean workers hostage. MEND claimed it killed some Nigerian soldiers in the process. At least one militant died in the battle. Most such kidnappings end peacefully, but militant attacks in Nigeria in recent months have shut down about a fifth of the country’s daily production, putting upward pressure on global crude prices.

•Biofuels on the Rise: Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel could power 37% of all U.S. transportation in the next 25 years, and possibly replace oil as the dominant fuel during that time, according to a study by the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, D.C., environmental group.

•Pushing Hybrids: Bank of America is offering employees $3,000 to drive hybrid cars, the AP reports, joining Google in a growing roster of U.S. companies encouraging the use of gas-electric hybrids.

•Good News, Bad News in India: The good news? India’s state-owned Gujarat State Petroleum Corp. has found a big reserve of high-quality, easily accessible oil and gas in south India. The bad news? It doesn’t have the rigs and manpower necessary to get the oil out of the ground, reports India’s Business Standard.

•Tax Debate: Alaska House and Senate negotiators are meeting to hammer out a compromise on a bill that would impose a tax on the net profits of oil companies producing oil and gas in the state, the AP reported. Striking such a deal is key to bringing a proposed 3,600-mile natural gas pipeline closer to reality.

•Not so Speedy: High gas prices are making speedy and same-day deliveries of flowers, gift baskets and other goods a thing of the past, the Associated Press reports.

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Tuesday’s Roundup:

UNEASE OVER IRAN: Traders cast a wary eye on U.S. supplies and production as they awaited Iran’s full response to the European Union’s proposal to offer Tehran incentives to discontinue its nuclear research. EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana presented the proposed incentives to the Iranian government, saying the West wants “to start a new relationship on the basis of mutual respect and trust,” the BBC reported. Representatives from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the U.S., United Kingdom, France, China and Russia — and Germany hammered out an agreement on incentives last week. Details of the package haven’t been disclosed.

BODMAN COOL ON CUTOFF: The world could handle any cutoff of Iranian oil exports “for a while,” U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said on Tuesday. “We certainly could handle it for a while,” Mr. Bodman told reporters. According to a Reuters report, Mr. Bodman said the U.S. emergency crude oil stockpile could be tapped in the unlikely event that Iran cuts oil exports to retaliate for possible sanctions imposed by the United Nations over Iran’s refusal to stop enriching uranium.

• Commuters Answer Call: With gas prices over $3 a gallon in many parts of the country, companies and transit benefit providers say there’s a boom in interest for any program that can help take the bite out of filling the tank, CNN Money reports. One of the more novel is a business concept by a young female entrepreneur, still in the development stage but under consideration by Intel, that would provide luxury shuttle service from San Francisco to the company’s operation in Santa Clara about an hour to the south.

• ETF Momentum: Oil and precious-metals prices have lost momentum recently, but that isn’t stopping exchange-traded fund providers from pressing forward with more commodity-related products, writes The Wall Street Journal’s John Spence.

• Racing for Ethanol: Reuters reports that last month’s Indianapolis 500 auto race, which required drivers to use ethanol fuel for the first time in the event’s 95-year history, gave a glimpse of what’s in store for the future of U.S. energy, a USDA official said this week.

• Job Risk: The rising cost of oil has put a squeeze on the companies that use oil as an ingredient for their products and could put many jobs at risk, USA Today reports.

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Monday’s Roundup:

HIGHER PRICES IN INDIA: India lifted its lid on gasoline and diesel prices in a bid to help long-suffering state-owned oil refiners trim their losses. But the companies are still unlikely to turn a profit under India’s tight regime of price controls, analysts said. Any further loosening of prices would have been political suicide for India’s Congress Party-led coalition government. China also recently lifted its price controls to give refiners a little relief. Both China and India have burgeoning economies and are massive consumers of oil, helping to keep global prices high — whether their oil companies and refiners profit or not.

RELIANCE MAY BE A BARGAIN: After skyrocketing in their first day of trading, shares of one of India’s refiners, Reliance Petroleum, have tumbled 40%, back to roughly their IPO price. The shares have partly been victimized by a general selloff of stocks in India and other emerging markets in recent weeks. But Reliance stock might be a bargain now, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Heard in Asia column.

• China in Oil Buy: Chinese state-owned investment conglomerate Citic Group is in talks to buy Canada’s Nations Energy, whose main asset is a field in Kazakhstan, for $2.2 billion. The deal would be China’s third-biggest overseas oil purchase after last year’s $4.2 billion bid by China National Petroleum Corp. for a Kazakh oil field and Cnooc Ltd.’s April purchase of a $2.7 billion stake in a Nigerian field.

• Blanco Wants Cut: Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has threatened to scuttle efforts to open more of the Gulf of Mexico for oil drilling unless her state gets some of the proceeds, The Wall Street Journal reports.

• Gas Bill’s Bite: Rising energy prices are forcing PepsiCo to find creative ways to cut natural-gas use at the plants that crank out Lay’s, Doritos, Cheetos and other snacks for its Frito-Lay unit, WSJ reports.

• Gas Prices Rising: The average U.S. retail price of gasoline rose by more than 2 cents last week to $2.89 a gallon, the Energy Information Administration said.

• World Bank Going Carbon-Neutral: The World Bank Group, which some critics see as a font of hot air, said it is becoming “carbon neutral” in its Washington, D.C., offices, its spring and fall meetings, staff commuting and operational travel from headquarters, according to Washington Wire.

• Deadly Mississippi Blast: Three oil-field workers died in an explosion in Raleigh, Miss. The blast’s cause is unknown.

• Ethanol at the Polls: Ethanol is not the only issue Iowans care about, the Associated Press reports. Sen. John McCain has tested that theory by telling Iowans he doesn’t support ethanol subsidies.

• TV at the Pump: Perhaps in an effort to distract motorists from the prices they’re paying at the gas pump, a Michigan company called Gas Station TV is testing gas-pump TV monitors that show news, weather and other video clips.

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