PennzEnergy to cut production, jobs
by Julie R. Cryser
    PennzEnergy, an independent oil and natural gas producer, will shut down 300 oil wells and lay off 32 hourly workers and seven field supervisors throughout West Virginia by May 1. Company officials are blaming a 20-year low in crude oil prices for the reductions.
    "With oil prices where they are, the oil wells in that area just aren't profitable to be run by anyone," said Jeanne Buchanan, vice president of corporate communications for PennzEnergy, headquartered in Houston, Texas.
    The move comes just two months after Pennzoil split into PennzEnergy, an exploration and production company, and Pennzoil Products, which specializes in marketing oil products. Pennzoil Products then merged with Quaker State to form Pennzoil/Quaker Co. Union officials say it's not just the name of the companies that has changed. "This was just sprung on us all at once," said Jim Johnson, a member of the Teamsters Local 175.
    PennzEnergy has just over 90 people working in West Virginia and 900 oil wells throughout the state. The company began negotiations Thursday night with the Teamsters to offer voluntary severance and early retirement packages. Johnson said about 20 to 25 people will be laid off in Harrison and Doddridge counties.  "The loss of these jobs will drastically affect the lives of these men and their families," Johnson said.
    Union officials believe the company is hiring contract workers to do much of the work that company employees being laid off could do. The practice is known as out-sourcing and allows companies to reduce expenses by hiring outside companies to do work. "We just don't feel that there should be contractors working when there are men being laid off," Johnson said.

Legislature enters stretch run with much work left to do
by Troy Graham

    CHARLESTON -  With a little more than two weeks remaining in the legislative session, West Virginia lawmakers have yet to see most of the major bills on the floor of the House and Senate, while some lawmakers say tensions are riding high as the last deals are cut.
    "The real serious stuff is still out there," said Delegate Barbara Warner, D-Harrison. "Why aren't they moving some of this stuff? We all know it's coming, but nobody's talking about it."
    Most of the major bills, such as the revamping of the workers' compensation law and the repeal of the last year's mountaintop removal bill, will most likely hit the floors sometime before midnight on March 13, the last night of the regular session. The fate of several other major bills, such as the proposed tax on smokeless tobacco, is more uncertain. But in the meantime, all is fairly quiet in Charleston.
    The House spent most of its floor session Thursday engaged in ceremonial work, honoring the Shepherd College football team, renaming an intersection in Cabell County for a Huntington businessman, and memorializing a former delegate who died in October.
    One delegate also urged lawmakers to see the movie "October Sky," which is set in McDowell County, while Delegate A. James Manchin lamented in a floor speech that coffee mugs distributed by lobbyists were made in China and not at a West Virginia company.
    The ceremonial day may have been due largely to the fact that there were no bills on third reading, when members vote for or against passage, said Delegate Frank Angotti, D-Harrison. "I don't know why that happened, but I think that may have been kind of rare," he said.
    Committee work has stepped up, though, in recent days, he said. The major committees are meeting sometimes twice a day, and minor committees are meeting once a day in an effort to get the bills out for a vote, Angotti said.
"It's going to speed up," he said. "It's going to get busier and more bills are going to come out."
Some of the bills still in committee include:
    THE SMOKELESS TOBACCO TAX: The House Health and Human Resources Committee passed it Wednesday. The bill now moves on to the House Finance Committee, despite the fact that House and Senate leaders have declared the bill dead.
    A spokesman said Governor Underwood is "not ready to concede" defeat on the bill. Underwood has said the tax would discourage smokeless tobacco use by children. Health and Human Resources Chairwoman Mary Pearl Compton also urged passage of the tax Thursday, saying it would "show that we care about our kids."
    REGULATING THE CABLE INDUSTRY AND ELIMINATING NUDE DANCING: Neither bill has seen any movement in their respective committees.
    HOSPITAL RATES: A bill to do away with state rate setting for hospitals, which is still in a Government Organization subcommittee.
    AEROSPACE TAX BREAKS: A bill sponsored by Warner to give tax breaks to the aerospace industry. Warner promised Thursday that the bill would pass. However, Warner declared a bill she sponsored to set up a graduated drivers' license system for teen-agers dead. "Not that it's not a good bill, but it's an unfunded mandate," she said.
    CASH REFUNDS: A bill pushed by Harrison County officials to allow cash reimbursements when clerical errors are made on county taxes.
    BODY PIERCING: A bill sponsored by Harrison County Delegate Larry Linch to regulate body piercing made it out to the House floor. The bill passed on second reading Thursday.

Businesses warned to be prepared for Y2K bug
by Paul Leakan

    Preparation for the year 2000 computer glitch ranges from inaction to hoarding gallons of water and heading for the hills. Perhaps the best way for businesses to prepare lies somewhere in between.
    Some local analysts on the problem believe that while all businesses must take action, the issue can be tackled effectively by approaching it as a project and taking reasonable precautions.
    Representatives from Toothman Rice and Steptoe & Johnson offered possible solutions and approaches to the year 2000 glitch Thursday at a Harrison County Chamber of Commerce breakfast seminar in the Bridgeport Holiday Inn.
    The glitch has millions worried that the world's computers will shut down on Jan. 1, 2000 because many of them were not programmed to understand the year 2000. The year 1999, for example, shows up on most computer systems as 99. But when the year 2000 rolls around, computers not reprogrammed properly will read the year 2000 as 1900, causing false data.
    Businesses can't afford to shy away from the problem, said Jon Elder, a partner at Toothman Rice, an accounting firm in Clarksburg. Elder said that small businesses must realize that they could take a major hit if they don't prepare for the problem.
    Still, he said, small businesses should view the situation not as an impending catastrophe but as a project that needs to be addressed and managed. The first way to address the problem is to admit there is one, Elder said. Many small businesses are in denial that they could be affected, he said. The common misconceptions?
    "It's a Fortune 500 problem." "People are handling it." "My small business won't be affected." "It only affects mainframe computers." "My business isn't affected by dates."
    All of those beliefs, Elder said, are simply not true. All businesses should develop a plan to diagnose the problem, prioritize efforts to fix them, fix the problems, test the solutions and have backup solutions in case something fails, he said.
Even then, Elder believes there are more steps that must be taken.
    Businesses must also track their suppliers' efforts to solve the computer glitch. After all, no supplies means no business.
"We're all together in this. You have to ask yourself, how much do I rely on myself to provide goods for my customers?"
Aside from technical problems, legal issues are sure to arise, said Gordon Copland, partner with the law firm Steptoe & Johnson. The computer glitch is the opportunity that lawyers have been waiting for in their quest to take over the world, Copland joked.
    Actually, Copland believes it may soon seem that way. The Gartner Group estimates that lawsuits relating to the problem will reach $1 trillion. Law firms are already preparing to pounce on the problem, Copland said. "It frightens me how much preparation is being done by lawyers to prepare for the problems."
    Businesses can avoid class-action lawsuits over the glitch by documenting their efforts to fix the problem, Copland said.
In addition, businesses should consider forewarning their customers that they may not be able to meet their prior commitments.
    In the end, analysts believe that it is unclear exactly how many businesses will be affected when the clock strikes 2-0-0-0.
But at least by solving the glitch, Elder believes the problem can actually become an opportunity. "If I'm compliant and my competitors are not, then that's got to help me in some way."


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Copyright Clarksburg Publishing Company 1999