Today in the Fortune 500: Noble Energy gets first deepwater drilling permit since the BP spill, former Apple employee charged of fraud and Merck animal health deal gets delayed

March 1, 2011, 8:05 PM UTC
Deepwater Horizon Drill Rig
Image by SkyTruth via Flickr

The Fortune 500 comes out just once a year, but the companies on it make headlines every day. Here then are today’s highlights of news and happenings coming from the biggest names in business.

By Shelley DuBois, reporter

FIRE UP THE DRILLS because the Department of the Interior issued a drilling permit to Noble Energy–the first for a deepwater drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico since  BP’s (BP) Macondo oil spill. Other energy companies are itching to drill too. Majors including Shell (RDSA), ExxonMobil (XOM) and ConocoPhillips (COP) have formed an oil spill response team with equipment to cap a broken well leaking up to 60,000 barrels of oil per day. [New York Times]

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT at Apple. A federal court found a former Apple employee guilty of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Previously a manager at Apple (APPL), Paul Devine traded confidential information about Apple products with six of the company’s major suppliers and manufacturers in Asia in return for kickbacks. He’s going to have to give up the roughly $2.28 million he made, as well as over $10,000 worth of gifts. [Wall Street Journal]

SICK CHICKENS are out of luck. The joint venture between Merck and Sanofi-Aventis to form a giant animal-health business will be delayed as antitrust regulators review whether the two pharma companies are playing by the rules. Even once the joint ventures goes through, the companies may have to ditch their poultry vaccine products, since combined, Merck (MRK) and Sanofi would control 75% of that market. [Wall Street Journal]

A MORE FLEXIBLE ASSEMBLY LINE at Ford (F), which spent $550 million to renovate a plant in Detroit that used to crank out identical cars. Now, the plant will be able to produce different versions of the Ford Focus car, either piston-powered or electric, and can also adjust to build subcompact cars such as the Ford Fiesta. While running a flexible plan may be more difficult, Ford hopes it will enable the company to adjust to changing consumer demand. [USA Today]

TURN YOUR LIGHTS DOWN LOW and get paid for it! The grocery chain Supervalu is one of many companies participating in a new energy savings demand-response program that pays companies that volunteer to scarf a smaller amount of wattage from the grid. Supervalu is using a go-between company called EnerNoc instead of working out an agreement directly with utilities companies. EnerNoc helps huge energy users figure out how much they can safely cut, and still reap the financial rewards. [Wall Street Journal]

THE AIR FORCE GETS A NEW JET this spring, and things are looking good. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightening II Stealth Fighter took its inaugural flight on Friday, and will have another month of tests before the Air Force adds them to its fleets. “The aircraft was rock-solid from takeoff to landing,” said the test pilot who flew the plane. [United Press International]