Category Archives: Brownswille

South Texas prosecutor Armando Villalobos indicted for bribery, plans run for Congress

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May 7, 2012
By Mark Lisheron

Police Monday arrested Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos and his former law partner following their indictment as part of an investigation into bribery that felled former District Judge Abel Limas.

Villalobos, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in the newly created 34th District, and Eddie Lucio were charged in connection with a federal investigation into Limas’ accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for favorable judicial rulings, Associated Press is reporting.

According to the story, officials for the US. Attorney’s office in Houston declined to discuss precisely the charges against Villalobos and Lucio. Villalobos had earlier in the day acknowledged to reporters he was being investigated by federal authorities, but declined to discuss the charges against him.

Villallobos told reporters he had no intention of stepping away from his job as district attorney, nor would he suspend his congressional campaign.

Limas, who served as a district judge from 2001 to 2008, pleaded guilty more than a year ago to racketeering charges involving five others, a wide-range of illegal judicial fixes and payoffs of at least $340,000.

As part of his plea, Limas agreed to a forfeiture of more than $250,000. His sentencing, postponed several times, has been pushed back to August.

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Corpus Christi, Texas: Predator drones (el Mosco) have yet to prove their worth on border

The nine unmanned aircraft are expensive to operate but their results are unimpressive, critics say. But one official says the criticism is shortsighted.

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By Brian Bennett, Washington Bureau
April 28, 2012, 9:16 p.m

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The drug runners call it “el mosco,” the mosquito, and one recent evening on the southern tip of Texas, a Predator B drone armed with cameras buzzed softly over the beach on South Padre Island and headed inland.

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Lyle Belew, the command duty officer in Predator Ops at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, on the night of April 18, communicates with a Predator pilot. (Brian Bennett, Chicago Tribune / April 19, 2012)

“We’re going to get some bad guys tonight, I’ve got a feeling,” said Scott Peterson, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection supervisory air interdiction agent. He watched the drone’s live video feed in the Predator Ops room at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, about 50 miles away.

As the unmanned plane flew up the winding Rio Grande, which forms the border with Mexico, Peterson fielded excited phone calls. One agent had seen known scouts for a Mexican cartel at a Dairy Queen, suggesting a load of drugs was coming through. Another called in the precise spot where the shipment would land.

Soon the drone’s infrared camera picked up a man hauling bales of marijuana from an inflatable rubber boat into a minivan on the Texas side of the river. Then it spotted a second boat. Agents readied for a major bust.

But the April 18 raid was not the success Peterson had envisioned. He wanted the drone to track the smugglers to a stash house, and perhaps to ranking cartel members. Instead, Border Patrol agents rushed to the riverbank, sirens blaring. They seized half a ton of pot, a 1996 Plymouth Voyager van and a boat. The smugglers escaped and no one was arrested.

The mixed results highlight a glaring problem for Homeland Security officials who have spent six years and more than $250 million building the nation’s largest fleet of domestic surveillance drones: The nine Predators that help police America‘s borders have yet to prove very useful in stopping contraband or illegal immigrants.

The border drones require an hour of maintenance for every hour they fly, cost more to operate than anticipated, and are frequently grounded by rain or other bad weather, according to a draft audit of the program last month by the Homeland Security Department‘s inspector general.

Last year, the unmanned fleet flew barely half the number of flight hours that Customs and Border Protection had scheduled on the northern or southern borders, or over the Caribbean, according to the audit.

And the drones often are unavailable to assist border agents because Homeland Security officials have lent the aircraft to the FBI, Texas Rangers and other government agencies for law enforcement, disaster relief and other uses.

The audit slammed Homeland Security for buying two drones last year and ordering an additional $20.5-million Predator B system in Cocoa Beach, Fla., this year, saying it already owns more drones than it can utilize. Each drone costs about $3,000 an hour to fly.

“The big problem is that they are more expensive than traditional methods” of patrolling, said T.J. Bonner, former president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union of border agents.

To help pay for the drones, Customs and Border Protection has raided budgets of its manned aircraft. One result: Flight hours were cut by 10% for the P-3 Orion maritime surveillance planes that hunt smuggling ships on the West Coast and in the Caribbean.

The amount of illicit drugs seized in Predator raids is “not impressive,” acknowledged Michael Kostelnik, a retired Air Force major general who heads the office that supervises the drones.

Last year, the nine border drones helped find 7,600 pounds of marijuana, valued at $19.3 million. The 14 manned P-3 Orions helped intercept 148,000 pounds of cocaine valued at $2.8 billion.

In an interview, Kostelnik dismissed criticism of the border drones as shortsighted. He sketched out scenarios, such as a nuclear plant meltdown or detonation of a dirty bomb, where the drones could help assess damage without endangering a pilot.

If a major terrorist attack occurred in Washington or New York City, Kostelnik said, he could put drones overhead in five hours, assuming they could be flown up from Florida or carried on a cargo plane, to help first responders and policymakers.

“It is not about the things we are doing today,” Kostelnik said. “It is about the things we might be able to do.”

The recent raid on the Rio Grande showed some of the pros and cons of the border drones.

Inside the Predator Ops center, the crew watched as the minivan filled with marijuana drove away on a dirt road. The Predator’s camera followed. Suddenly, a figure raced in front of the minivan, waving his hands for the driver to turn back.

“He’s spooked!” said Lyle Belew, the mission commander. “Stay on him!” he ordered the camera operator as the van did a quick U-turn.

Instead of risking a potentially violent standoff in a nearby residential neighborhood, the agents on the ground decided to cut the operation short and try to seize the drugs at the river.

A Border Patrol SUV suddenly appeared on screen, chasing the minivan back to the riverbank. Then six figures jumped out of the minivan and into the water, taking one of the two rubber boats. Several Border Patrol agents ran down the beach in pursuit.

In the Ops Center, Border Patrol liaison Hector Black worried that cartel gunmen might open fire on his agents from the far side of the river.

“Ask them to pan [the drone camera] to Mexico to make sure nobody starts shooting at our guys,” Black said. “See if there are guys with long arms,” meaning rifles.

The banks looked empty, but the camera clearly showed six figures and a rubber boat drifting down the dark river and back into Mexico.

brian.bennett@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

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Texas (Brownsville): Keppel Gets Jack-up Rig Order from Mexican Company

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Keppel AmFELS LLC, a US wholly-owned subsidiary of Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd (Keppel O&M), has won a contract from Mexico’s Perforadora Central SA de CV (Perforadora Central) to build a repeat jackup rig worth US$205 million.

Slated for delivery in 1Q 2014, this latest high specification unit will be based on the LeTourneau Super 116E design with leg lengths of 511 ft and the capability to drill wells up to 30,000 ft at a water depth of 375 ft.

Mr Tan Geok Seng, President of Keppel AmFELS, said, “Keppel AmFELS has had a great relationship with Perforadora Central that dates back to 2002. Once again, we are honoured to be building another jackup, our fourth, for Perforadora Central and are very grateful to them for their continued trust and confidence in us.

“We have endured the post-Macondo challenges well. Having recently secured the Ocean Onyx semisubmersible major upgrade and a series of repairs, this newbuild jackup adds to a healthy workload through 1Q 2014. We also continue to pursue projects from Pemex and we are optimistic about our chances.”

In keeping with its tradition of safe, on-time and within-budget deliveries, Keppel AmFELS completed Tonala, an ultra premium KFELS B Class jackup rig for Perforadora Central in 2004, followed by Tuxpan, a LeTourneau S116E rig in 2010. The Papaloapan jackup, which was ordered by Perforadora Central in March 2011, is under construction and on track for delivery 1Q2013.

Perforadora Central expressed, “With each successive project, Keppel AmFELS has reaffirmed its expert project management and construction capabilities, as well as commitment to the highest standards of safety and quality.

“Our Tonala and Tuxpan jackups are turning in excellent performances for PEMEX in Mexico while construction of Papaloapan is ahead of schedule. We are just as confident that our latest newbuild by Keppel AmFELS will be another exceptional product to boost our track record and establish us as the foremost provider of drilling solutions in Mexico.”

Perforadora Central is a Mexican company providing offshore and onshore drilling service mainly for PEMEX.

The above contract is not expected to have a material impact on the net tangible assets or earnings per share of Keppel Corporation Limited for the current financial year.

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Energy secretary backs natural gas exports

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The low price of natural gas is hurting domestic job growth, and exporting a small amount of the fuel will boost the economy, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu told a Houston audience Thursday.

Speaking at a town hall at Houston Community College, Chu said a modest increase in the price of natural gas wouldn’t significantly raise its cost to U.S. consumers who use it to heat their homes and manufacturers who need it to make products.

Natural gas futures closed at $2.55, up 17 cents, in trading Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It brings much higher prices in other countries.

“Exporting natural gas means wealth comes into the United States,” Chu said.

The Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy is reviewing several applications to export liquefied natural gas. The exports would relieve the glut of natural gas on the domestic market and raise revenue, but also potentially increase prices for domestic consumers.

Several U.S. energy companies have announced plans to close their natural gas wells and curb spending in natural gas fields, as its price has fallen from more than $13.50 in 2008.

In his State of the Union speech last week, President Barack Obama called for an “all-of-the-above” approach to domestic energy production, including investment in oil, natural gas and renewable energy sources.

Chu said it’s important that the United States be at the forefront of innovations and technologies in renewable energy.

“We have a choice. When all these things become cost-competitive, do you want to buy or do you want to sell?” he asked. “If we are buying, that is wealth out of the country. If we are selling, that’s wealth into the country.”

Before the hour-long session with students at the college, Chu met with oil and gas executives and explored the Texas Medical Center’s energy efficiency upgrade.

At the college, he answered questions about the Obama administration’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz, among other topics.

Chu said the administration is open to exploring alternate routes for the pipeline that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

It’s become a touchstone issue for supporters who say it will create jobs and reduce U.S. dependence on oil from hostile nations, and opponents who argue it could threaten water supplies and promote use of an especially dirty form of oil.

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Photo: Melissa Phillip / © 2011 Houston Chronicle

 

Chu said he supports construction of pipelines nationwide, particularly to relieve the glut of oil at the hub in Cushing, Okla., a major price point for domestic oil.

“There is such a shortage of pipelines between Cushing and Houston,” Chu said. “There will be major construction of pipelines in the next decade or so. All the job creation from Cushing to Houston is being done now.”

Chu touted government investment in wind, solar and other renewable energy sources, as well. He said he expects the cost of solar power to fall by 50 percent within six to eight years.

Chu also dismissed Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil shipment channel, in retaliation for international sanctions aimed at the nation’s nuclear program.

“I don’t think they can really shut down the Strait of Hormuz,” Chu said. “We certainly have capabilities to reopen it.”

simone.sebastian@chron.com @SimonesNews

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USA: Gulf Coast Applies for LNG Export

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Gulf Coast LNG Exports, LLC applied for approval from the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy, to grant a long-term, multi-contract authorization for Gulf Coast to export up to the equivalent of 2.8 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d), or 1022 billion cubic feet per year (Bcf/y) of LNG.

Authorization is sought for a 25- year period, to commence on the date of first export or 8 years from the date of issuance of the authorization.

Gulf Coast proposes to export LNG from a natural gas liquefaction facility and LNG export terminal located at the Port of Brownsville in Brownsville, Texas to any country which has or in the future develops the capacity to import LNG via ocean-going carrier, and with which trade is not prohibited by U.S. law or policy.

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