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A federal bankruptcy court in Pittsburgh Tuesday granted Halliburton Co. an extension on a stay blocking asbestos lawsuits against the company. Halliburton and asbestos lawyers suing the company have agreed on numerous other extensions of the stay before. The move comes at a pivotal time as Sen. Orrin Hatch’s, R-Utah, asbestos legislation hangs in the balance. Halliburton said that the official committee of asbestos claimants in the Chapter 11 case of a former subsidiary, Harbison-Walker Refractories Co., has agreed to extend the stay until Sept. 30. If Halliburton hasn’t filed a Chapter 11 petition for its DII Industries (Dresser Industries) division and its Kellogg Brown & Root unit by then, the asbestos claimants can ask the judge to lift the stay and let lawsuits against Halliburton proceed. In December 2002, Halliburton agreed to a $4 billion settlement with asbestos plaintiffs that requires the company to put its DII and Kellogg Brown & Root units into bankruptcy. Since then, Halliburton has repeatedly said that it’s ironing out many details of the prepackaged bankruptcies that it plans to file. But in June, Halliburton said that the pending legislation could affect its talks with asbestos plaintiffs. The Hatch bill would create a $108 billion fund to compensate asbestos plaintiffs. Companies facing asbestos lawsuits would contribute to the fund. Analysts estimate Halliburton could save $3.5 billion if it contributes to the fund rather than negotiating a settlement. This is because the contributions of companies participating would be far less than most settlements. However, Hatch has warned that if his bill doesn’t garner enough support by the end of September, it might die. On Monday, Halliburton said it is planning to make another $30 million payment to Harbison-Walker by July 30 under a debtor-in-possession loan it’s providing the company. The payments are likely meant to keep Harbison-Walker in bankruptcy until asbestos issues are resolved. “This will help convince Harbison-Walker to go along with Halliburton’s plan,” said Robert Mackenzie, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group Inc. Harbison-Walker is now owned by Austrian heat resistant products maker RHI AG. �Copyright 2003, The Deal, LLC. All rights reserved. Wire reports contributed to this story.

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