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Energy Firms, Employees Aid in Gulf Coast Relief and Recovery Efforts

On top of energy companies contributing millions of dollars to fund relief efforts, their employees have been donating their time to help Hurricane Katrina victims rebuild their lives amid the disaster along the Gulf Coast. Energy firms also have been taking extraordinary steps to aid employees who were displaced from their homes due to evacuation or damage.

In Houston, 2,500 Shell Oil and Motiva Enterprises LLC employees, retirees and family members have been involved in a variety of relief efforts at the Houston Food Bank, the Astrodome, the George R. Brown Convention Center, Volunteer Houston and the Red Cross Command Center, according to Shell President John Hofmeister.

The energy company has donated computers and IT expertise for installation and programming to serve Houston shelters as an information-management system; more than 200 Shell retail stations are collecting items for the Houston Food bank and Red Cross; Pennzoil and Quaker State supplied 15,000 shirts, 8,000 toys and 4,000 radios and flashlights; and Shell Deer Park Refinery contributed 200 cots to survivors at shelters, he noted.

In addition, gasoline and other fuel has been provided to New Orleans city police, federal and other officials in Biloxi, MS, and $100,000 in gas cards has been provided to help support survivors' return home, according to Hofmeister.

As for displaced Shell employees, he said that more than $1 million in cash has been dispersed to staff under an interest-free loan program. The company "[has] made provisions for extensive temporary and medium-term housing for dislocated staff and their families. We've acquired hundreds of Houston-area apartments and we are working on more housing in Baton Rouge and other Louisiana areas. Temporary accommodations [also] have been arranged for staff at Shell and Motiva manufacturing locations," he said.

ExxonMobil Corp. is providing a one-time $5,000 lump-sum payment to assist its affected full-time or part-time regular employees with emergency living expenses. In addition, the Irving, TX-headquartered company is advancing employees up to two months' salary ($15,000 maximum) to get back on their feet. The loans will be deducted from employees' paychecks over a 24-month period, with no interest charged. The $5,000 does not have to be paid back.

ExxonMobil also is making company pool cars available to displaced workers to commute to work and for "reasonable incidental personal use" through Sept. 30 or until the employee can acquire personal transportation, whichever is sooner. In the event pool cars are unavailable, rental cars can be used for commuting to work and "reasonable incidental personal use" during the same period, it noted. At the end of the month, the company said it will reassess the situation to determine whether it needs to extend transportation assistance for an additional period of time.

The company, along with most other energy firms, is continuing to pay its workers. In addition, ExxonMobil and its healthcare provider also have relaxed requirements for medical assistance and refills of prescriptions.

There were a lot of heroes in New Orleans after Katrina struck, and workers from ExxonMobil's Baton Rouge refinery were among them. At the request of the Louisiana State Police, an emergency crew from the refinery gathered four boats and began rescuing people from rooftops in New Orleans the day after Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. They were forced to leave when gunfire and looting erupted throughout the city. All told, Robert Davidson, assistant fire chief at the refinery, told the newspaper he believes his crew rescued about 1,500 people

Chevron Corp. also is trying to take care of its employees who were affected by Katrina, assisting in relocation efforts and establishing "The Chevron Humanitarian Relief Fund" for displaced employees and their families.

The energy company has set up a tent city near its Pascagoula, MS, refinery, with the capacity to house up to 1,500 refinery employees and their families whose homes were destroyed or severely damage by Katrina. The tent city provides water, catering, power, satellite communications, sewage treatment, medical services, bedding and laundry. For immediate needs, Chevron said it was supplying 3,000 ready-to-eat meals, clothing, bedding, toiletries and first aid.

Chevron estimated that between 15% to 25% of Pascagoula employees -- up to 250 employees -- lost everything as a result of Hurricane Katrina. It said it will run the tent city as long a it's needed. The company also will provide fuel for the vehicle fleet that supports the camp.

In related efforts, the American Public Gas Association (APGA) and Mobile Gas Service have established the Eastern Katrina Mutual Aid Staging Center to provide humanitarian aid and assist in assessing/repairing damage to gas distribution facilities in Mississippi and other affected areas. Because it is difficult to travel to, and communicate with, these systems in the impacted areas, Mobile Gas has been driving across coastal Mississippi to visit the affected communities and gas systems and conduct preliminary assessments of needs. For further information, contact Bill Coffeen at (251) 450-4613.

The American Gas Association, Southern Gas Association and APGA also have established a Western Staging Area in Metarie, LA, to assess damage to gas distribution facilities in Louisiana. For more information, contact Entergy Services' Perry Dufrene at (225) 329-9704 or Jackie Blakley at (225) 329-9712.

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