Officials at Enel North America continue an investigation to determine what caused a turbine at the Fenner Wind Farm, located outside of Cazenovia, N.Y., to fall down on Dec. 27.

The farm is owned and operated by Enel subsidiary, Canastota Wind Power LLC and consists of 20 GE 1.5MW turbines.

Responding to a report of an outage, Fenner employees discovered the turbine failure around 5 am. There were no injuries or local property damage resulting from the incident. The turbine failure was fully contained on property leased by Canastota Wind and well away from public roads and nearby residences.

While local authorities were notified, fire and emergency services were not called to the scene. As a safety precaution, generation and maintenance activities at the wind farm have been temporarily suspended. Power has been restored to the other 19 turbines for heat and safety lights.

According to Enel, measures have also been taken to minimize and mitigate any potential impact to the environment as a result of the incident. The site has been secured and debris contained. Security has also been posted while the investigation continues.

In addition, the company says it has assembled a team of internal and external industry experts to assist in the investigation.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency added its voice to the Marcellus debate, with a harsh critique of the state DEC's proposed permitting conditions.

The proposed framework lacks information on how drilling and hydraulic fracturing to develop the Marcellus will impact the health and environment, according to a Dec. 30 letter to the Department of Environmental Conservation from John Filippelli, Chief of the EPA's Strategic Planning and Multi-Media Programs.

In particular, "analysis and discussion of cumulative and direct impacts ... need to be significantly expanded," the letter states. Additionally, "a greater emphasis needs to be placed on the potential health impacts that may be associated with drilling and hydrofracturing."

The EPA does not have jurisdiction over drilling in New York state, although its regulatory authority may come into play with wastewater treatment and disposal wells that will be part of Marcellus development. Also, U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, has proposed a bill, known as the Frack Act, that would give the EPA more oversight in drilling, a proposal the industry strongly opposes.

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Syracuse, NY -- The nation’s top-ranking environmental agency on Wednesday said New York’s proposed rules for high-volume hydrofracking need to be significantly expanded and should include a greater emphasis on potential health impacts that could be associated with natural gas drilling.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency submitted 14 pages of comments to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is in the process of deciding how to regulate natural gas drilling for years to come. The DEC’s public comment period ends Thursday.

EPA officials urged the DEC to partner with other state agencies, such as the Public Service Commission and Department of Health, to more thoroughly analyze the cumulative and indirect impacts of gas drilling. Federal regulators said they were particularly concerned about the potential risks of gas drilling in watershed areas in New York City and across the state.

The Post-Standard reported Monday that oil and gas companies hold hundreds of leases in the Skaneateles Lake and Otisco Lake watersheds, which provide drinking water to more than 400,000 Central New Yorkers.

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Split over gas drill rules continues

ALBANY -- A coalition of business groups and a union representing state environmental workers added their voices to the debate Tuesday over proposed natural gas drilling in the state, with one urging Gov. David Paterson to push ahead and the other urging him to slow down.

The separate letters to the governor came as the state Department of Environmental Conservation nears a Thursday deadline for comments on a proposed 802-page rule book on drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas-laden underground formation that stretches through the state's Southern Tier and the Catskills, and south into Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

DEC is drawing up rules to control "hydrofracking," a drilling technique that uses a high-pressure mix of water, sand and drilling chemicals to fracture gas-bearing rocks deep underground. Gas is then brought to the surface.

Critics of the technique say it creates large amounts of tainted water, and that few options currently exist to treat the water that can be returned to the surface. Some water also remains underground, and could pose a risk of traveling to affect underground water nearby.

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NYSERDA has announced a request for proposals (RFP) for $24M in municipal energy conservation measures (provided via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program.).

Eligible small municipalities can receive up to $500,000 to fund projects to conserve energy, involving:

energy efficiency improvements
renewable energy improvements
efficient transportation system implementation
material conservation and
energy management personnel

Eligibility requirements are:

1. Be a New York State small municipal governments that were included in the 2007 Census of Governments as a currently incorporated municipality;
2. Have a governance structure that includes an elected official and a governing body; and
3. Must not be listed in Appendix R as having received a direct EECBG allocation of U.S. Department of Energy formula grants.

A proposer may request up to 100% of the cost of the project. Successful proposers must agree to comply with all required federal and state requirements for use of the funds. All proposers must follow all competitive procurement laws, regulations and requirements for all work conducted using funding from this RFP. All Projects will be required to comply with Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements. All Projects must also comply with Buy American requirements.

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ALBANY — A coalition of business and economic development groups urged Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday to stick to the state’s draft energy plan, which includes support for natural gas exploration.

The group — comprising the Independent Oil and Gas Association, The Business Council of the New York, the Independent Power Producers of New York, the National Federation of Independent Business and Unshackle New York — said in a letter to Paterson that natural gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale formation would not pose environmental dangers, as foes contend.

The formation runs through parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. In New York, it underlies an 18,700-square-mile area, much of it in the Catskills.

Opponents of drilling for natural gas contend the process — known as hydraulic fracturing, or hydrofracking — would pollute New York City’s upstate watershed. But Brad Gill, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association, says the coalition has found no evidence to support that claim.

Chesapeake Energy, a natural gas producer and the only leaseholder in the New York City watershed, has said it won’t drill there because of opposition from politicians and environmental groups. But opponents want a ban, saying the company’s word isn’t good enough.

Even without a single well drilled in 2009, the Marcellus Shale continued to be at the center of a polarizing debate about visions for the future in the southern Finger Lakes and Southern Tier.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation took longer than expected to complete an environmental review of risks associated with drilling. Without a final regulatory framework to deal with unique issues related to Marcellus production, no permits were issued in New York, although drilling ramped up in Pennsylvania.

Residents in Dimock Township, Pa., suffered environmental mishaps that ruined at least 12 water wells and led the Department of Environmental Protection to fine Cabot Oil & Gas more than $250,000, and shut down production for several weeks in September.

In the Southern Tier and Ithaca, 2009 might be most remembered as the year of the Great Debate. Rallies drew thousands of people urging the state to speed up or slow down its regulatory overhaul necessary to begin permitting Marcellus wells in New York.

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While much of New York's attention is on the question of horizontal gas drilling, the issue of wind energy is one that many people who live near wind farms say just isn't getting the attention it deserves.

Hudson Valley bureau chief Susan Barnett reports they're hoping the latest accident in Madison county changes that. - Joint Statement by New York State Energy Research and Development Authority President and CEO Francis J. Murray, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis, and New York State Public Service Commission Chairman Garry Brown

"The settlement reached on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative allows New York State to move forward with the critical work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while building the clean energy economy Governor Paterson has envisioned for New York's future. The settlement leaves intact the mechanisms to achieve every critical goal of this program. We look forward to finalizing the settlement following public comment and, with Governor Paterson's leadership, embarking on a new era of environmental protection for the State of New York and for the world."

Under the settlement:

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Windmill Hits the Ground

A windmill on Buyea Road in the Fenner Wind Farm Project hit the ground Sunday morning. The collapsed equipment was discovered Dec. 27 by staff of Enel North America, the Andover, Mass., company that owns the project, while doing routine monitoring of their equipment.

Town of Fenner Supervisor Russell Cary said he doesn’t know whether the problem was discovered through the wind farm’s extensive computer monitoring system or by physical rounds, but he said nobody was injured in the collapse.

“This is an example of something that went right,” Cary said of the lack of casualties in the incident. “You can have all the experts in the world conduct all the studies in a lab, but the real learning happens in the field.”

Cary said planning precautions implemented prior to the construction of the wind farm in 2001 required certain setbacks and “collapse distances” to prevent damage to surrounding structures and town infrastructure in the event of an equipment failure.

(Click to read the entire article)

As drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale grows, pundits have been quick to pronounce it as part of a revolution in energy production. Some have even declared that there is no longer a need for other alternative sources in supplying electricity.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If ever there was a time for an honest reassessment of government policy on energy production, it's now. And what that reassessment would conclude is that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should regulate natural gas drilling­ otherwise we run the considerable risk to public health and safety from contaminated drinking water and dangerous airborne emissions, including toxic chemicals like benzene.

I know my prescription doesn't square with the views of many who wish to maintain the essential free ride for natural gas. But a half-century of working on energy policy issues as an engineer and a regulator has left me convinced that­ with the health and safety of millions of people at stake ­the temptation to ignore the risks of natural gas drilling on a massive scale and emissions from natural gas facilities could be a calamitous mistake.

Natural gas has many virtues as a fuel compared to coal or oil, and its share of energy must and will certainly grow in the years ahead. The process of extracting natural gas, however, is not risk free. Known as hydraulic fracturing, it involves injecting into the ground a combination of water, sand and chemicals under high pressure to break down shale formations to unlock deposits of gas. When hydraulic fracturing is combined with horizontal drilling, reserves previously thought inaccessible are now recoverable, which is a significant benefit.

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Will the lure of natural gas drilling leases attract modern-day prospectors to the region to buy up vacant land and drive up local property values?

Or will the fear of industrial activity and environmental damage send potential homebuyers running for the hills, leading to a drop in the housing market?

It's a question Tompkins County Assessor Jay Franklin is eager to answer, but one he suspects will take time to play out as the marketplace responds to the issue of the day.

As Franklin explained to municipal leaders at a recent meeting of the Tompkins County Council of Governments, the presence of new large-scale horizontal gas drilling in the area is just as likely to have a positive impact on property value as it does a negative one.

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PSC gives utilities a stern warning

ALBANY -- The state Public Service Commission is making it abundantly clear that it wants gas and electric utilities in the state to cut nonessential spending as much as possible next year.

In a tersely worded order issued on Tuesday, the PSC said utilities had essentially ignored previous requests to come up with "austerity plans" that show how they are trying to save money that can be returned to consumers.
"Until the current economic downturn reverses, utilities should employ as many cost-cutting measures as possible," the order states.

Possible cuts include freezing executive salaries, forgoing bonuses and limiting travel along with non-safety related training.

The PSC ordered utilities in New York back in the spring to file austerity plans that would identify potential savings that could be returned to customers.

(Click to read the entire article)

ALBANY -- New York City's Department of Environmental Protection called on state officials Wednesday to ban natural gas drilling in the Catskills watershed, saying it would pose too great a risk to the city's upstate drinking water system.

The DEP took that position in response to the state Department of Environmental Conservation's draft regulations on gas drilling in New York's portion of the Marcellus Shale region, which includes parts of the Catskills where reservoirs supply drinking water for 9 million people.

The state is taking public comments on its 800-plus page draft until Dec. 31. The city DEP had withheld comment pending its own lengthy review of the potential risks of gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing, which blasts millions of gallons of chemical-laced water deep into the shale to release trapped gas.

Chesapeake Energy, one of the nation's largest natural gas producers, and the only leaseholder in the watershed region, has said it won't drill there because of opposition from politicians and environmental groups. But opponents have continued to call for a ban, saying the company's word isn't good enough.

(Click to read the entire article)

ALBANY— An environmental group has issued a report bashing the state's handling of the Environmental Protection Fund, claiming too much of the fund has been used to pay the state's bills and not to help the environment.

Created in 1993, the fund pays for improvements to parks, recycling projects and protecting farmland. But Gov. David Paterson and state lawmakers have taken $185 million from the fund over the past two years for non-environmental projects, according to the Environmental Advocates of New York report.

Nearly $500 million has been transferred from the fund since its inception, the report showed.

"During the past decade, New York's green piggy bank has been smashed to pieces," David Gahl, policy director for the group, said in a statement. "We're calling on Gov. Paterson to stop hacking away at environmental programs and stop including these sweeps in his budgets."

(Click to read the entire article)

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The new year will bring sad tidings to many large businesses across Upstate New York. They face electric bill increases of roughly 12 percent to 20 percent, thanks to a combination of higher delivery charges from National Grid and higher electricity prices on the wholesale market.

State regulators this month approved a delivery-rate adjustment for National Grid that shifts how much the utility charges different categories of customers — without altering how much Grid collects overall. The new rates take effect Jan. 1.

The bad news for industrial customers is good news for residential customers. A typical household will pay 6 percent less in delivery charges to National Grid in 2010, while some large industrial customers will pay 24 percent more in delivery charges.

Delivery charges are the state-regulated rates that National Grid charges for using its poles, wires and work force to deliver power. They do not include electricity supply charges, which are unregulated and rise or fall based on supply and demand.

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Congressman Says More Safeguards Are Needed to Protect Public Health

Kingston, NY -- Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) this week formally submitted comments to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in response to the agency's draft findings for how horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas in the Marcellus Shale would impact the environment and affect the quality of life for state residents. While noting the economic benefits that natural gas drilling could have on the state and its residents, Hinchey said that the DEC first needs to take a series of additional comprehensive steps to adequately ensure that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water supplies or jeopardize public health in any other way.

"Natural gas development presents New York with a range of potential economic benefits, but those benefits come with some extraordinary environmental and public health risks that we cannot simply ignore and hope for the best," said Hinchey, regarding the comments he submitted on the DEC's draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS). "The DEC has taken a good step forward in setting some environmental guidelines, but a lot more work needs to be done. It is tempting to move forward with drilling now in order to realize the economic benefits, but doing so in haste would unnecessarily subject the state to potential environmental and public health disasters that would be far more costly in every way. Now is the time when we should be taking a closer look at what's happened in other states including Pennsylvania and Wyoming -- where waterways and drinking water supplies have been contaminated -- and take the steps needed to ensure such problems don't befall New York."

In his comments to the DEC, Hinchey laid out a series of 11 steps he believes the agency needs to take before drilling should be permitted in New York. Those steps are:

(Click to read the entire article)

The way people choose their electricity provider is changing.

NYSEG announced the Voice Your Choice program is ending at the end of the year.
Action News reporter Gabe Osterhout tells us what that means for customers, and what other options are still available next year.

Customers will have to do their homework when choosing their 2010 electricity provider.
With the Voice your choice program ending, there is no longer a set time for you to choose who you get your electricity from.

"Customers are left to their own research, their own intuition about what they think is best for them and what best serves their energy needs so we just want to make sure we're out there and we're available," says James DiStefano, vice president of NYSEG Solutions.

Starting in 2010, NYSEG will no longer offer annual fixed rates.

(Click to read the entire article)

Syracuse, NY - National Grid has told at least 200 employees in Syracuse that their jobs could be outsourced over the next year, according to employees.

The utility is seeking vendors to take over much of its information services work, which includes software programming, computer networking and similar functions, employees said.

A company vice president told employees at a meeting earlier this month that vendors could be selected from either the United States or overseas, according to employees who were there and spoke on the condition that their names not be published.

The jobs of an unspecified number of outside contractors from Central New York who already provide computer services to National Grid are also at risk, employees said.

National Grid officials Tuesday declined to discuss their plans, saying no decisions have been made.

(Click to read the entire article)

Rain for Rent, a fracking-support company from California, plans to open a branch in Kirkwood to be in the thick of Marcellus Shale development.

Plans call for a distribution and maintenance center for rental equipment, including tanks and pumps, for crews producing natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. The gas-rich formation, heralded as a major future domestic energy source, runs from the Southern Tier through the Appalachian Basin.

Rain for Rent, with 58 branches nationwide, anticipates opening number 59 on an 8-acre parcel on the Akraturn campus on Route 11, pending approval by the Kirkwood Town Planning Board, said Mathew Stevenson, construction coordinator for Rain for Rent.

"We would operate tomorrow, if they let us," Stevenson said.

(Click to read the entire article)

Sierra Club's Pro-Gas Dilemma

LIVERPOOL, N.Y. -- When energy companies began preparations to drill for natural gas in upstate New York last year, the local Sierra Club quickly organized against them.

The group's New York chapter demanded studies on the environmental risks, pushed for stricter regulations and called for a statewide ban on most gas drilling. The drilling hasn't begun as the state works to develop regulations.

It would have been a typical story of environmentalists battling industry, except for one thing: The national Sierra Club is one of natural gas's biggest boosters.

Carl Pope, the Sierra Club's executive director, has traveled the country promoting natural gas's environmental benefits, sometimes alongside Aubrey McClendon, chief executive of Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the biggest U.S. gas companies by production.

(click to read the entire article)

Marcellus Shale gas will contribute to landmark changes to energy markets facing the age of global warming.

That's the forecast of analysts and industry representatives following Exxon Mobil's purchase of XTO energy last week. The world's largest energy company is reinforcing industry's growing confidence that vast domestic shale gas plays, like the Marcellus, will become the fuel of choice for a burgeoning number of utility plants and vehicles.

The Exxon deal includes drilling rights to 47,000 acres in the Deposit area over a lucrative section of the Marcellus Shale.

"There is broad recognition that we will be living in a carbon-constrained world," said Chris Tucker, a spokesman for Energy In Depth, a Washington based trade group. "This is the direction that everybody is moving in."

(Click to read the entire article)

Addison landowners form coalition

A new group has formed to help area landowners negotiate leases with natural gas companies.

Twin Tiers Landowners Coalition Inc. was recently founded by Mike White and Phil Knapp, two Addison landowners. The small business has hired two professional consultants, launched a Web site, and plans to open an office on Main Street in the village of Addison in about
a month. Informational meetings will be scheduled soon, White said.

The idea is to assemble as many acres of land as possible and negotiate as a group, helping secure better signing bonuses and royalty payments. Initially, the coalition will focus on Steuben County and Tioga County, Pa., and may expand to neighboring counties, White said.

“We’re growing daily, slowly right now, but we expect it to pick up,” White said.

The coalition’s two consultants are Gregory Sovas and Adam Shultz.

(Click to read the entire article)

To my neighbors who have signed gas leases:

Victoria Switzer signed a gas lease on her property in Dimock, Pa. Her family now drinks water from bottles because her own water well is contaminated with methane.

A drilling company spokesman told a reporter, “At this point, no specific connection has been made between the tentatively identified compounds and oil and gas activities.”

Mrs. Switzer fears that if she tries to sell her home, which sits in the middle of a drilling zone, no one will buy it.

“Can you imagine the ad? ‘Beautiful new home. Bring your own water’,” Ms. Switzer said. “We’re like a dead zone here.”

She probably should have hired a lawyer before she signed her lease.

(Click to read the entire report)

For years Ashvin Zaveri built what appeared to be a successful enterprise, relying on friendships and business links with local lawyers, accountants and other professionals who trusted his judgment in an arena that can be chockfull of scam artists: the drilling rights for oil and natural gas.

Now the 71-year-old Honeoye Falls resident stands accused of one of the largest frauds in the region's history. The FBI arrested Zaveri on Thursday on charges that he bilked investors who pumped almost $35 million into his various businesses.

Zaveri, who owns Zaveri Oil & Gas Ltd. in Brighton, pleaded not guilty Thursday before U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa. Zaveri was released after agreeing to surrender his passport and post as bond a Pittsford home he owns in which a family member lives.

A federal grand jury on Tuesday returned a 16-count sealed indictment charging Zaveri with money-laundering, and mail and wire fraud. Siragusa unsealed the indictment at Zaveri's arraignment Thursday.

(Click to read the entire article)

CV Board Grills DEC On Drilling

You might expect Otsego 2000, the OCCA and Sustainable Otsego to oppose drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, given the potentially devastating environment impact.

But the Cherry Valley Town Board, meeting Dec. 10, unanimously passed a resolution that questions whether proposed state egulations sufficiently consider potential pollution of water supplies or damage to town roads.

And the following Monday, the 14th, the Springfield Town Board adopted a similar resolution.

“DEC is asking for comment,” said Cherry Valley Councilman Mark Cornwell, “and we commented.”

The resolution may be viewed in full at in which it is proposed.”

Cornwell, a SUNY Cobleskill wildlife and fisheries professor, went through the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s DSGEIS – the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement – page by page.

He observed that while hydrofracking – the burrowing out of horizontal drills from a vertical shaft – can extend 10,000 feet from the center, the provisions to protect water supplies only apply to wells within 1,000 feet of the center.

Further, according to the resolution, the DSGEIS provisions would allow up to 17,000 truck trips per multi-well pad over town roads.

ALBANY, N.Y. — The operators of New York's electrical grid are asking state regulators for permission to borrow as much as $50 million to build a new control center they say is needed to maintain reliable service amid emerging "smart grid" technologies.

The New York Independent System Operator wants to build the new center across the Hudson River from Albany in Rensselaer, next to its administrative offices. The current 40-year-old control center — in an unmarked building in the Albany suburb of Guilderland — would be downgraded to a backup role.

NYISO officials say the current center will be outdated by 2012.

In a filing with regulators at the state Public Service Commission, the operators said the current control center will not be able to process real-time information transmitted by a new generation of measurement devices designed to assess vulnerabilities in the grid. The devices will be installed across the grid with the help of federal stimulus funds and are designed to transmit data 60 times a second.

(Click to read the entire article)

NY pledges millions to energy programs

ALBANY— State officials on Wednesday pledged $200 million to help push the state toward a goal of having 30 percent of its energy consumption come from renewable energy resources by 2015.

The funding, which comes from ratepayers and is provided by the state Public Service Commission, will further develop the state's production of electricity by wind, water and biomass. The commission also will provide up to $30 million a year to fund downstate solar energy and fuel-cell projects.

The program "is a key element of the state's strategy for obtaining a more diversified energy portfolio," said Garry Brown, commission chairman. "This initiative not only helps reduce emissions of global warminggasses, it does so at a minimal cost to the state's ratepayers."

Because of the initiative, the average electricity bill will see an increase by 2015 that "will be well under one percent," the commission said.

The program is in conjunction with Gov. David Paterson's goal of using clean energy and improved energy efficiency to produce 45 percent of the state's electricity by 2015. The commission plans to reduce electricity consumption by 15 percent statewide by 2015.

(Click to read the entire article)

NY increases green energy output

The state Public Service Commission has increased the proportion of electricity that New York will generate from renewable sources to 30 percent by 2015.

The previous goal was to generate 25 percent from clean energy sources by 2013.

The goals are part of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, the state’s energy policy that was created in 2004.

Today’s action by the commission is consistent with goals recently set by Gov. David Paterson. He wants to reduce overall energy use 15 percent and generate 30 percent of the state’s electricity from clean energy sources by 2015. The PSC previously adopted an initiative to reduce overall energy use by 15 percent by 2015.

“This initiative not only helps reduce emissions of global warming gases, it does so at a minimal cost to the State’s ratepayers. This initiative allows New York to take greater control of our energy future,” PSC chairman Garry Brown said.

Paterson praised the PSC’s decision. “Expanding the State’s renewable energy goal is a critical step in transitioning New York to a robust clean energy economy,” he said.

Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, Niagara County, said this afternoon that he spoke with Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson yesterday and would be “very interested” in serving as chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Maziarz is one of three Republicans that Senate Democrats have reached out to for possible committee chairmanships. The others are Republican Sens. Thomas Morahan of Rockland County and Joseph Robach of Monroe County.

Maziarz served as Energy Committee chairman last year, before Democrats won the majority in January and appointed Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, to the post. But Parker was stripped of the position earlier this year after he was indicted on assault charges.

Now Sen. Darrel Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, Jefferson County, is the chairman and also serves as Senate Agricultural Committee chairman. The position carries a $12,500 stipend.

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ERIE, Pa. -- A federal judge in Erie says oil and gas drilling can resume in the Allegheny National Forest and that U.S. Forest Service officials were wrong to ban it earlier this year.

The Forest Service agreed in April to temporarily halt drilling until an environmental assessment could be done. The Forest Service agreed to the ban to settle litigation brought by environmentalists.

But U.S. District Judge Sean McLaughlin on Tuesday ruled that the Forest Service can't require environmental assessments before drillers can access their mineral rights beneath the forest. The oil and gas companies said they stood to lose millions of dollars under the ban.

The judge's 53-page ruling also overturns the earlier settlement with the environmental groups.

(Buffalo, NY) - Today, New York State Senator Antoine Thompson (D-parts of Erie and Niagara Counties), Chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee was in Towanda and Dimock, Pennsylvania on a fact finding mission regarding hydro fracturing of the Marcellus Shale formation to collect natural gas. Senator Thompson first met with officials from Chesapeake Energy, a company with plans to drill in New York State. He then traveled to Dimock, PA where he met with citizens who were subjects of a NY Times article last week after experiencing drinking water pollution problems and other issues that they believe are related to well drilling in their community by the Cabot Oil and Gas Company, a competitor of Chesapeake.

“As Chair of the New York State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, I am committed to providing New Yorkers with the most efficient energy options available without compromising environmental integrity,” Senator Thompson said. “I am fully committed to doing a comprehensive and thoughtful review of the benefits and potential environmental impacts of hydro fracturing of Marcellus Shale in New York State.”

Marcellus Shale is a black, low density, organic rich shale that was formed by the sedimentation of marine, mud and clay deposits from ancient river deltas across the Appalachian Basin approximately 350 to 415 million years ago. It exists up to 9,000 feet below ground mainly beneath New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

In order to allow the gas to escape through the pore space, drillers create artificial fractures in the shale, predominately using a method called hydro fracturing by injecting a mixture of water, sand and gel at extremely high pressure to crack and prop open the shale.

(Click to read the entire article)

Two local companies involved in the natural gas industry are expecting SteelWater to run deep -- about 6,000 feet deep below the surface in the Marcellus Shale Basin where the thousands of gallons of water used each day to produce gas must be disposed of in an environmentally safe way.

SteelWater is the name of a joint venture by BLX Inc. and CWM Environmental Inc. that has partnered with a New Mexico company, Altela Inc., to use Altela's patented technology to help solve the water issues associated with developing gas in this region.

The gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs 600 miles through Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, is a growing industry in Western Pennsylvania.

BLX is an independent producer of natural gas and an oil and gas exploration and development company in Kittanning.

(Click to read the entire article)

Exxon to buy natural gas firm XTO

Exxon Mobil, the world's largest energy company, is the newest stakeholder in the fight over drilling in the Southern Tier.

In a move to capitalize on a trend toward domestic energy production, Exxon Mobil finalized terms to buy XTO Energy for $31 billion Monday. The deal includes XTO's rights to 47,000 acres in the Deposit area over a lucrative section of the Marcellus Shale -- a massive natural gas formation that runs from upstate New York through the Appalachian Basin.

Improved understanding of the Marcellus geology and technological innovations has made the massive reserve the target of well-capitalized energy companies. Early production of the Marcellus in northern Pennsylvania by companies including Range Resources, Cabot Oil & Gas and Fortuna Energy has exceeded industry expectations.

Exxon has signaled recently that it's attracted to natural gas assets. Once the deal closes, Exxon officials said, the company will establish a new organization to manage global development and production of unconventional resources, including the Marcellus.

(Click to read the entire article)

Gov. David Paterson postponed it.

State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton wants to slow it down.

Sen. Thomas Libous is for speeding it up.

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo is torn between extremes.

Elected officials taking a position on Marcellus Shale development are facing strident demands from stakeholders who could become rich, go broke or possibly abandon hope, depending on Albany's response.

As a Dec. 31 public comment deadline approaches, the polarizing debate shows no sign of easing. Stakeholders continue to hold town hall meetings, sign petitions and write elected officials in an attempt to make or break the multibillion-dollar gas industry's move to the Southern Tier.

"This is by far the most contentious issue that I've worked on since joining the state Assembly," said Lupardo, a third-term Democrat from Endwell. "I'm compelled to do everything possible to protect our environment, while recognizing the enormous economic potential of the Marcellus. I'm trying to be a moderating voice in this process."

(Click to read the entire article)

ITHACA -- The state's new blueprint for Marcellus Shale development proposes 187 new tasks to regulate natural gas drilling with no mention of how they will be completed.

That's the assessment of a team of Cornell University lawyers and students who tackled the 800-page regulatory proposal -- called the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement -- as a class project.

The pro bono work was done by Cornell Law School's Water Law Clinic to help the Town of Danby and the Upper Susquehanna Coalition -- a nonprofit group chartered to protect water resources -- sort through the dense technical details of Marcellus regulation.

The public has until Dec. 31 to submit written comments regarding the state Department of Environmental Conservation's plan to oversee Marcellus development in New York. The shale formation holds the largest natural gas reserve in the country, running from the Southern Tier and parts of the Finger Lakes region down through Pennsylvania and the Appalachian Basin.

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The Towns of Ithaca and Dryden are agreeing to help defend the City of Ithaca against a lawsuit related to the municipalities' jointly owned sewage plant on Third Street.

The city was sued in October by FirstEnergy, an Ohio-based corporation with a history connected to NYSEG. NYSEG is currently undertaking environmental cleanups to remove coal tar left from its predecessors at dozens of locations across the state, including two in Ithaca: the wastewater treatment plant, and the Markles Flats building on Court Street.

NYSEG sued FirstEnergy in 2003 to try to get that company to help pay for cleanup costs. FirstEnergy then sued the current property owners, the city and the Ithaca City School District.

Under state and federal law, the city had the right to turn around and sue the towns to pull them into the lawsuit, too. But in the agreement being considered by the three municipalities, the city agrees not to sue the towns, and to hold them harmless for any damages that arose before Dec. 22, 1981, the date the parties signed their agreement to create the Ithaca Area Wastewater Treatment Plant. In exchange, the towns agree to help pay the city's legal defense costs.

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ALBANY, NY (12/10/2009)(readMedia)-- At a ceremony held at the Cohoes Music Hall on December 8, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash announced the recipients of the 2009 New York State Historic Preservation Awards.

"The Historic Preservation Awards honor the efforts and achievement of individuals, organizations and municipalities that make significant contributions to historic preservation objectives throughout New York State," Ash said. "The range of awards this year reflects the deep commitment and strong partnerships across the state that have made preservation an important tool for economic development. We are pleased to see that several projects involved the creation of affordable housing units, including one project that developed affordable senior housing units."

The State Historic Preservation Awards were established in 1980 to honor excellence in the protection and rejuvenation of New York's historic and cultural resources. Projects included several buildings adapted or rehabilitated for affordable housing and one that created affordable work spaces for small manufacturers.

General Electric Co. just announced it has received a $1.4 billion contract to supply wind turbines and other services to the largest wind farm ever built in the United States.

The contract is with New York City-based Caithness Energy, which is building a 845-megawatt wind farm in Oregon called Shepherds Flat.
The $2 billion project spans 30 square miles in north-central Oregon. A total of 338 turbines will be installed in 2011 and 2012.

It will also be the first wind farm in the U.S. to use GE's 2.5-megawatt turbines. Typically, domestic wind farms use 1.5-megawatt turbines, although the larger ones have already been used in Europe and Asia.

GE Energy Financial Services is investing in the project.

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Hartford-based UTC, which is increasingly focused on energy conservation technologies, said it has agreed to pay about $270 million for a 49.5 percent stake in a California-based wind turbine manufacturer called Clipper Windpower.

The deal, which has been approved by both companies' boards but still needs approvals from Clipper's shareholders and from regulators, was announced Wednesday and positions UTC to compete with General Electric on yet another front.

GE, based in Fairfield, is already an established provider of wind power technology. GE and UTC directly compete (and, on other projects, cooperate) in the jet engine business.

"The agreement allows UTC to expand its power generation portfolio and enter the high-growth wind power segment by investing in a company with strong management and innovative technology," UTC said in its announcement. "...It also builds on UTC's existing portfolio of energy efficient products and power generation systems that respond to the world's growing demand for cleaner, more efficient solutions."

Clipper Windpower designs and manufactures wind turbines and develops wind power projects. It is based in Carpinteria, Calif., and conducts research and development there. It has a manufacturing plant in Iowa and in the United Kingdom. It had 2008 revenues of $737 million, UTC said.

UTC said it would "work closely with Clipper Windpower to improve the company's core technology, manufacturing, product quality, and supply management capabilities."

UTC typically sets aside about $2 billion a year for acquisitions.

An Ithaca environmental activist and 6,000 other individuals and organizations asked the governor Tuesday to withdraw the state's newly drafted regulations on natural gas drilling, saying the state's entire regulatory framework needs to be strengthened before more drilling occurs.

Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, is the activist who last month publicized 270 spill reports from the state Department of Environmental Conservation's own database, documenting well contamination and other environmental pollution related to the conventional, vertical gas drilling that has gone on in New York State for decades.

"DEC's own data document systematic, on-going failures to prevent oil and gas drilling pollution impacts or to clean them up. It is imperative that DEC resolve those regulatory shortcomings prior to issuing new drilling permits," the petition states.

Signatories include state Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, U.S. Congressman Eric Massa, the National Resources Defense Council, Common Cause, Earthjustice, Earthworks, and the New York State Public Interest Research Group.

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Two energy companies face $31,000 in fines after a caustic chemical bound for the Marcellus Shale in Bradford County, Pa., didn't make it down the well bore.

Chesapeake Appalachia and Schlumberger Technology Corp. were both fined $15,557 for spilling 295 gallons of hydrochloric acid at a Bradford County drilling site early this year, according to records from the Pennsylvania state Department of Environmental Protection.

Failure of a tank used in hydraulic fracturing caused the spill in Asylum Township.
The process, called fracking for short, involves blasting the Marcellus with large volumes of chemical solution to fracture the non-porous rock and free natural gas. The controversial process is necessary to capitalize on the economic potential of gas development.

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Energy East becomes Iberdrola USA

The name of the holding company for Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. has been changed to Iberdrola USA from Energy East Corp., and Mark Lynch has been named president of RG&E and of New York State Electric & Gas Corp., Iberdrola officials announced Monday.

The name change will not affect the names of Iberdrola USA’s utility companies, including RG&E, NYSEG and unregulated companies such as NYSEG Solutions and Rochester-based Energetix Inc., officials said.

“Directly linking the strong Iberdrola global brand—and its association with renewable, caring for the environment and focusing on customers—with our companies makes complete sense,” Iberdrola USA CEO Robert Kump said in a statement.

“It also makes complete sense to keep our operating company names that are strong brands in their own right.”

Lynch was president and CEO of the New York Independent System Operator from 2005 to 2008. He also has utility experience with Mirant Corp. and its predecessor, Southern Energy, and Mississippi Power Co.

The name change comes three months after James Laurito resigned as president and CEO at RG&E and NYSEG. Laurito was replaced by Michael Conroy as senior vice president and chief operating officer.

The Marcellus Shale debate just got a little hotter.

Radioactive waste from the Marcellus is an issue state regulators will have to anticipate as they draft new rules for tapping the massive natural gas field under the Southern Tier.

An analysis of wastewater samples by the Department of Health found levels of radium-226, and related alpha and beta radiation that are up to 10,000 times higher than drinking water standards, according to a memo the agency sent to the Department of Environmental Conservation. That means the DEC will have to do more testing to identify drilling sites that pose radiation risks, and ensure hot drilling waste is handled and disposed of properly, according to records from the state.

How big of a problem is this?

"The issues raised are not trivial but are also not insurmountable," the health department's memo to the DEC concludes. "Many can be addressed using common engineering controls and industry best practices."

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Under some of the most beautiful parts of rural New York State in the pre-Jurassic era formation called the Marcellus Shale is an unimaginable fortune in natural gas. Getting that gas to market has become an obsession of Wall Street and the biggest gas drilling companies in the world. In this gas rush, New York is fast becoming a geological science experiment that many experts fear will have profound, dire environmental and health consequences. The drilling companies use a witch’s brew of water, pressure and chemicals to force the gas from the shale. It is the secrecy of what is in that brew that has New Yorkers worried and many suspicious. Even the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has not yet identified all of the compounds in products proposed for use in fracturing shale.

Now, the world’s largest drilling fluid supplier is licensing new technologies that have never before been used on a large scale as they work to develop more effective ways to extract natural gas. These new fluids will include nanotechnology, according to the largest supplier of drilling fluids in the world. This potential application of nanotechnology, a branch of science involving the technological manipulation of particles about one-tenth the size of a human cell, has not been thoroughly vetted and tested in natural gas wells.

“What we have done in our group, for example, is to develop nanoparticles that can be used with water-based fluids so that you can put them in water and drill with them,” said Mukul Sharma, a professor in the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at University of Texas. “And the advantage of that is that these nanoparticles have the same dimensions as the pores in the shales, so they tend to plug these pores.”

Gas shale development requires the use of oil-based drilling fluids because water-based drilling fluids interact with the shale causing it to expand or contract leading to instability of the wellbore, according to Sharma. Oil-based drilling fluids are expensive and can be harmful to the environment. New developments may reduce the need for oil-based drilling fluids. Sharma and his colleagues applied silica particles about five to 40 nanometers in diameter to different kinds of water-based drilling fluids to plug pores in shale samples reducing water invasion. He and his colleagues filed patents for the use of nanoparticles in drilling fluids earlier this year.

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The comment period on New York’s draft natural gas drilling guide will soon come to a close. But before you send your detailed comments on the draft to the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, please tell Governor Paterson and state lawmakers to just say “no” to fracking for natural gas.

Natural gas companies are eager to drill in the Marcellus Shale Formation, which includes the Southern Tier and Catskills regions. Click here to tell the Governor and lawmakers in the State Capital to protect New York from the dangers of natural gas drilling unless there are safeguards in place to protect our air, land and water.

The Governor has already given the green light to natural gas companies, but before the fracking begins, New York State lawmakers must pass legislation that creates strict rules and regulations to guide drilling in every part of the state, not the permit-by-permit approach proposed by the Department of Environmental Conservation.

New York State also needs the boots on the ground to inspect the drilling sites and make 100% sure that fracking doesn’t poison our waterways or pollute our landscapes.

Click here
to tell the Governor and state lawmakers to just say “no” to fracking for natural gas until New York is prepared to protect the health of our environment and the public.

In other parts of the country, fracking for natural gas has spilled toxic chemicals into waterways and landscapes. We need to protect New York from the dangers of industrial drilling.

Under the plans, the new wind farm or farms are expected to come online by 2015, and provide power to the regional grid via a power purchase agreement with the New York Independent System Operator. The deadline for agreeing on the PPA is the end of May 2011.

Significantly, the NYPA has taken a similar approach to the Canadian province of Ontario's recently launched renewable RFP policy and will aim to ensure much of the economic value from the project will remain in the state. It said that it will give more favourable consideration to proposals that include the use of local labour and materials, to drive economic benefits from the large-scale wind project.

The NYPA proposal is not the only offshore wind project to be taking form on the Great Lakes. Canadian energy giant Canadian Hydro has acquired a similar 4.4 gigawatt project from wind energy specialist Wasatch Wind, while a number of other companies are known to be exploring offshore wind projects in the region, including US energy firm Duke Energy.

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Energetix Inc. and NYSEG Solutions Inc. are pleased to announce their continued commitment to electricity fixed pricing. In recent announcements, RG&E and NYSEG have both announced the end of the Voice Your Choice Program and will discontinue offering Fixed Pricing beginning 2010.

The Utilities will continue to provide fixed rate delivery service along with a variable rate transition charge. The customer can choose the Utility’s variable rate supply or pick one of the many supply options available from Energy Services Companies (ESCo’s) such as Energetix and NYSEG Solutions.

Approximately 160,000 NYSEG and RG&E customers, who have enjoyed the stability and security of fixed electricity prices during the Voice Your Choice program, must now look elsewhere if they want to continue with a fixed price option. Energetix and NYSEG Solutions offer fixed rate electricity plans for 6 month, 12 month, and 16 month terms, in addition to their Market and Blended Price Plans. Both companies also provide Fixed, Market and Blended Price Plans for natural gas.

“Given the uncertainty of our current economy, we understand that a significant segment of the population seeks price stability, which is why we have expanded the term options of our Fixed Price Plans.” stated Carl A. Taylor, CEO of Energetix and NYSEG Solutions. “We look forward to becoming the local fixed price provider of choice for this customer base.”

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National Grid has once again asked the state Public Service Commission to keep the financial details of its “smart-grid” project secret.

Since much of the project’s multi-million-dollar cost will likely be passed on to ratepayers and, possibly, taxpayers, the commission should say no.

With smart grid electricity networks, each customer would receive a real-time meter to show how much electricity was being used at each moment. The meter would communicate with the utility, which could send customers hourly wholesale price information and alert them ahead of time when rates are expected to spike during peak periods. The utility could even shut off household appliances, if customers choose, when prices rise.

The technology could result in a more efficient electricity grid, improve reliability and decrease the need to build more power plants in the future. All are worthy goals. But expanding the smart grid among all electric utilities across New York is expected to cost billions of dollars, and electricity bills are expected to rise dramatically as a result.

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Four New York advanced energy projects, including one in Watkins Glen, will receive $88 million in funding to support smart-grid and energy storage projects.

The funding is part of the federal economic stimulus program, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

New York State Electric and Gas Corp. received $29.6 million for one of 16 awards nationwide to help fund energy storage projects that will enhance reliability and efficiency of the grid, while reducing the need for new electricity plants, according to the office of Gov. David Paterson.

NYSEG’s award will help the advanced 150-megawatt facility that utilizes an underground salt cavern to store compressed air.

This demonstration site at Watkins Glen, Schuyler County, combines with a smart-grid control system that will improve grid reliability and provide a resource to accept wind-generated power, Paterson’s office said.

Governor David A. Paterson today announced that four New York advanced-energy projects will receive more than $88 million in funding to support Smart Grid demonstration and energy storage projects through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. These projects were competitively selected with 28 other projects funded nationwide to help build a smarter, more efficient and more resilient electrical grid.

New York strengthened the applications by pledging a 10 percent match or $8.8 million from New York’s Innovation Economy Matching Grants Program. In total, the awards of $620 million announced Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu will be leveraged with $1 billion in funds from the private sector to support more than $1.6 billion in total Smart Grid projects nationally.

“The fact that our State is well represented among the states in receiving these funds is testament to New York’s position as leader in the New Economy. Smart Grid and energy storage efforts are critical pieces of my ‘45 by 15’ energy efficiency and renewable energy goals, and continue our path to creating a stronger clean energy economy and a cleaner environment for all New Yorkers,” Governor Paterson said. “Three State authorities, including NYSERDA, LIPA and NYPA, are actively involved in these projects, and we are proud of the recognition they have received. I applaud President Obama, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and our entire Congressional Delegation for their work to secure these critical funds that promote economic recovery, development and environmental stewardship.”

The funding awards are divided into two topic areas. In the first group, New York received three out of 16 awards nationwide to support fully integrated, regional Smart Grid demonstrations. These included:

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It's hard to get environmental advocates and natural gas industry officials together in one room, let alone on the same panel.

Both of those things are scheduled to happen Monday, when Cornell Cooperative Extension holds a summit on Marcellus Shale development in the Southern Tier. The massive geological formation, running under the Southern Tier and throughout Pennsylvania, holds the largest natural gas resource in the country. Its full-scaled development carries the prospects of significant changes to the region's landscape and economy.

Regulators, geologists, lawyers, emergency responders, landowners, municipal officials, economic developers and other stakeholders are scheduled to meet at the Owego Treadway Inn for a day-long summit on the impact of Marcellus development. The event, open to the public, begins at 9 a.m., with registration at 8:15 a.m.

"There are many different perspectives to this, and we are trying to present them all," said Andy Fagan, director of Cornell Cooperative Extension offices covering Tioga and Chemung counties.

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A federal agency has sided with Seneca Lake residents and landowners against a power company found to be drawing too much water from the lake for its hydroelectric operations, two congressman announced Wednesday.

According to U.S. Reps. Michael Arcuri, D-Utica, and Eric Massa, D-Corning, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied an appeal by Seneca Falls Power Co. of a previous ruling that the company drained more water than allowed in its permit.

Residents around Seneca Lake complained in 2008 to Arcuri and Massa about lower-than-normal water levels in the lake, making it difficult to move boats in and out of marinas and hoists, among other difficulties.

FERC investigated in April and issued a compliance order July 16 that the company had been draining more water than allowed from Seneca Lake to operate its hydropower operations at the lake's northern end.

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Who's going to pay to ensure local water wells are not polluted by Marcellus Shale drilling?

State officials say they are still trying to figure that out, but area counties may be off the hook.

The state's proposal that would require local health departments to oversee gas drilling is being reconsidered in light of an order by Gov. David Paterson.

That order, signed in April, prohibits state mandates on municipalities without assessing their full economic impact, including costs and benefits.

Claudia Hutton, head of public affairs for the state Department of Health, said the governor's policy has led to rethinking a regulatory proposal by the DEC that would leave oversight of water quality testing in drilling zones to local health departments.

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A new report on state renewable energy regulations gives California, Colorado, New Jersey and Oregon top marks and failing grades for Georgia, Idaho and Texas.

“Freeing the Grid,” which was written by renewables advocates, examines each state’s policies on net metering and interconnection procedures. Those are two of the main regulatory elements that enable homeowners and businesses to connect solar panels or other energy technologies to the electric grid, and be reimbursed for their efforts.

“If not implemented fairly or properly, these policies can pose a barrier to the development of customer-sited renewable energy,’’ the report states. Some customers, it noted, encounter “byzantine” regulations.

The report, released on Tuesday, was prepared by two nonprofit groups, Network for New Energy Choices and the Vote Solar Initiative. It lays out suggested guidelines to facilitate the adoption of renewable energy. The groups are hoping for improvement to existing state regulations, and ultimately for a favorable federal policy.

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Spain’s Self-inflicted Economic Wounds from “Green Jobs” Regimes

…for every renewable energy job that the State manages to finance, we can be confident that on average 2.2 jobs will be destroyed, to which we have to add those jobs that the non-subsidized investment would have created.

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The expected boom in natural gas leasing has some local lending institutions reconsidering their mortgage policies.

And local borrowers who stand to make a lot of money from leasing their potential gas rich properties to energy companies are concerned, lenders say.

"Our switchboards have been lighting up," said Frank E. Berrish, president and chief executive officer of Visions Federal Credit Union, headquartered in Endicott.

"There has been concern and confusion."

Berrish may be getting more calls than other lenders about the gas lease issue. Visions holds more mortgages in Broome and Tioga counties than any other lending institution, the credit union president said.

At issue is how the leasing or selling of gas and mineral rights could affect the value of the mortgaged property.

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A Horseheads couple has filed a $5 million lawsuit against a gas drilling services company that located next to their home and has become a constant source of noise, diesel fumes and other inconveniences.

The suit was filed this week in Chemung County's state Supreme Court by David and Deborah Harnas, 145 Old Ithaca Road, against Gas Field Specialists Inc., located in The Center at Horseheads industrial park. In addition to punitive damages, the lawsuit also seeks to have the Pennsylvania-based company cease its Horseheads operations.

The Harnases' attorney, Luciano Lama of Ithaca, said the couple contacted him about two weeks ago after unsuccessfully taking their concerns to Horseheads village officials. Lama said he and his clients will "be looking at the village next."

The Harnases' lawsuit is assigned to Supreme Court Justice Judy O'Shea. A hearing date has been set for Dec. 22, Lama said. The filing also requested a temporary restraining order be placed against the company while the lawsuit works its way through the court, but O'Shea did not grant the order. Lama said that issue will be one of his first orders of business at the December hearing.

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Smart grid is still an option

ALBANY -- National Grid is not giving up on its plans for a "smart grid" demonstration project in upstate New York.

The London-based utility recently lost out on $200 million in federal stimulus funding it was seeking for projects in New York and New England that would have allowed it to test new technologies such as advanced meters and plug-in electric cars that make up what's generally called the "smart grid."
The New York portion of the project -- expected to cost $250 million -- would have taken place in Saratoga County and a small portion of Schenectady County, as well as parts of the Syracuse area.

Half the funding would have come from the Department of Energy through the stimulus package, and the other half would have come from utility customers.

However, National Grid was not among the chosen when President Barack Obama announced $3.4 billion in smart grid funding for 100 projects across the country on Oct. 27.

But National Grid is now telling state regulators that it may try to do a scaled-down version of its smart grid pilot, although how it would pay for the project remains unclear.

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When the natural gas companies descended on Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale two years ago, it felt like a Gold Rush. And everyone seemed to be hitting pay dirt.

Landowners, many in long-depressed regions, rushed to lease their property, betting the promised royalties would better their lot. Mayors rejoiced that restaurants and hotels were full after decades of barely hanging on. Legislators talked of thousands of new jobs.

Even some environmentalists were pleased-natural gas burns clean, it's plentiful and it's local. Finally, it seemed, an energy source had come along that would wean Americans off their foreign oil addiction, fight climate change and boost the economy.

But now, with nearly 700 Marcellus wells drilled throughout the state, the environmental costs of drilling are becoming clear. The gas in the Marcellus "play" may ameliorate the United States' energy needs, but the technique to extract it has damaged streams, water supplies and Pennsylvania's famous forests. It has transformed some of the state's most beautiful landscapes into industrial zones and brought hardship to some who thought it was their lifeline.

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Will the lure of natural gas drilling leases attract modern-day prospectors to Tompkins County to buy up vacant land and drive up local property values? Or will the fear of industrial activity and environmental damage send potential homebuyers running for the hills, leading to a drop in the housing market?

It's a question county Assessor Jay Franklin is eager to answer, but one he suspects will take time to play out as the marketplace responds to the issue of the day.

As Franklin explained to municipal leaders at a meeting of the Tompkins County Council of Governments on Monday, the presence of new large-scale horizontal gas drilling in the area is just as likely to have a positive impact on property value as it does a negative one. And since his assessment calculations are based on fair market value, it's hard to predict what will happen.

"All of our decisions are data-driven. Until we have data, we are not seeing any positive or negative impact," Franklin said.

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After a flurry of leasing activity last summer provoked a frenzy of excitement among many landowners, things went very quiet later in the fall. One land agent working in Westfield remarked that many of the exploration companies had already leased the land they wanted, at least for the time being, and were just tying up loose ends, negotiating leases for property they needed for access, pipelines and such. That was, for the most part, the way things remained until now. R & R Energy Consulting in Lawrenceville (an energy consulting firm begun by Jackie Root and Earle Robbins, former Tioga County Penn State Cooperative Extension agent) explains this situation on its website. “An extremely weak economy, rising unemployment, a severe lack of credit and an abundance of fear and uncertainty created a crisis in the global economy in 2008, including the natural gas/oil industry. We saw leasing rates and royalties go from record highs to a standstill. The U.S. natural gas wellhead price (dollars per thousand cubic feet) dropped from $14 in June 2008 to just under $3 in late August 2009. Many companies saw their company stock prices drop by 50 percent or more. The S & P Index was off 37 percent, its worst result since 1937.”

The quietness may be coming to an end.

Experts at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences reported this week that a fierce bidding war has doubled the prices being offered for leases in Pennsylvania. “Energy companies seem to be returning to the state and buying up drilling leases with a vengeance,” said Joann Kowalski, Penn State Extension economic development educator in Susquehanna County. “The proven performance of existing wells may have companies competing to lock up prime properties in the state’s Northern Tier.

“Word hit the street in September that Fortuna Energy was going to be paying the Friendsville Group $5,500 an acre for a five-year lease, with 20 percent royalties for producing wells,” Kowalski continued. “That was probably about twice the rate that had been offered up to that point.” She noted that Fortuna had not been buying leases in Susquehanna County before this – they were doing most of their work in Bradford County.

N.Y. penalizes gas-drilling firm

Fortuna Energy will relinquish acreage it unfairly claimed from more than 300 Southern Tier property owners in the fight over the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, according to the state attorney general's office.

While the settlement centers on practices of Fortuna, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo characterized the industry's tactics to acquire drilling acreage from property owners as misleading, bullying and deceptive.

"Many of these companies used their size and extensive resources to manipulate individual property owners," he said Tuesday. "This land grab must stop."

Fortuna, based in Elmira, agreed to pay the state $192,500 as part of the settlement.

(Click to read the entire article)

Fortuna used deceptive tactics

Horseheads, N.Y.

Fortuna Energy used deceptive and misleading tactics in negotiating natural gas drilling rights with landowners, according to a recent investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office.

The Horseheads-based company reached a settlement in which it agreed to stop using such tactics, which are prevalent in the industry, the Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday.

Beginning in April, Fortuna sent letters to several hundred area landowners whose leases with the company were about to expire, according to a press release. Most of the leases were for drilling rights in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation which runs deep beneath the Southern Tier.
The letters falsely stated that Fortuna had the right to extend these leases without the permission of the landowners, according to the AG.

Specifically, Fortuna falsely claimed that the leases contained provisions that allowed Fortuna to put the lease on hold until the company could obtain required horizontal drilling permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, according to the AG.

(Click to read the entire report)

Albany, N.Y.

Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that his office has reached an agreement with Fortuna Energy, Inc. that will allow customers who were misled and ended up extending their natural gas leases with the company to renegotiate their terms. The settlement also stops Fortuna from
employing industry-prevalent misleading and deceptive tactics to secure from New York landowners.

The company also agreed to pay $192,500 to the state in connection with the settlement.

East Rochester out to tame the wind?

East Rochester officials are looking into wind power to help save on electricity costs.

Among the options under consideration are wind turbine units that look like giant flowers. They’re produced by WindTamer Corp., a relatively new business in Geneseo, Livingston County. Village Administrator Marty D’Ambrose said they sell for about $19,000 each, but that WindTamer has offered them to the village at $15,000 each.

D’Ambrose said Assemblyman David Koon, D-Perinton, who recently started working for WindTamer as vice president of engineering, brought the units to the attention of the village, which is also part of his district.

“He thought, knowing the village well, that this would be something that would be a good opportunity, and he was able to convince them to give us a cost break,” D’Ambrose said — noting Koon’s son, East Rochester Mayor Jason Koon, has “stated emphatically” that he would not participate in voting on the matter, should it come to a vote.

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Landowners have what gas companies need.

Gas companies have what landowners want.

So why are they both knocking on the office doors of three men who have come to hold the keys to the bulk of the Southern Tier's multi-billion dollar natural gas-drilling prospects?

Meet the Marcellus Shale power brokers.

Two are local attorneys representing landowner coalitions that control more than 120,000 acres in central Broome County. A third is a landman from Oklahoma, entrusted with drilling rights to 10,000 acres in Vestal. All are competing for the next mega-deal with energy companies staking out the heart of the Marcellus that runs under the Southern Tier.

* Chris Denton, an Elmira attorney, built a career on lease transactions long before the Marcellus became the prize. He was among the first in the game and has amassed the biggest local following. He represents coalitions holding unleased land in Windsor and Kirkwood, with 95,000 acres, a coalition in Tioga County, with about 65,000 acres, as well as other groups.

* Scott Kurkoski, a partner with Levene Gouldin & Thompson in Vestal, represents eight coalitions in Broome and Tioga counties with about 80,000 acres, including 18,000 acres in the towns of Binghamton and Conklin. He also represents groups in central New York.

* Dean Lowry, a principal in Llama Horizontal Drilling, is a gas and oil industry career man following the call of the Marcellus to Vestal. He controls leases of about 600 landowners who commissioned him to find a buyer for mineral rights to 9,859

(Click to read the entire article)

DIMOCK, Pa. - More than a dozen families have filed suit against one of the nation's largest natural gas drillers after the company polluted their water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania.

State environmental regulators fined Houston-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. for allowing gas to escape into groundwater supplies in rural Susquehanna County near the New York border. The Department of Environmental Protection says 13 wells were polluted.

Cabot agreed earlier this month to take steps to prevent a recurrence. The company also promised to restore or replace the affected water supplies.

The problem was discovered Jan. 1 when a well exploded at a home near Cabot's operations.

Cabot is among a slew of exploration companies that are drilling in the potentially lucrative Marcellus Shale formation.

ITHACA -- The hundreds of people milling outside the State Theatre Thursday night weren't waiting to see a show, but rather to hear comments about an issue that has taken center stage across Tompkins County and the Southern Tier: the potential for high-volume hydraulic natural gas drilling into the Marcellus Shale that runs underneath the region.

Doors opened an hour before a public hearing was scheduled to start, and within half an hour, the speaking slots were filled. The crowd was there to hear and make comment on the state's draft gas drilling environmental impact statement.

The Tompkins County Council of Governments had use of the space until 11 p.m., and with 85 people signed up to comment, it seemed likely they would fill all four hours.

About 1,000 more people packed into the 1,600-capacity theater to hear those comments, and in many cases cheer on the speakers as they expressed their concerns about the potential negative impacts of gas drilling on their health, the environment and the local economy. As of press time, no one had spoken in favor of drilling.

(Click to read the entire article)

Central Hudson Gas & Electric used to boast it had the lowest bills in the state of any of the investor-owned utilities.

On Thursday, it said an industry report found its bills were the lowest for commercial and industrial customers and second-lowest for residential customers.

The Edison Electric Institute said commercial customers of Central Hudson, including small and mid-sized businesses, churches, schools and so on, paid electricity prices that were about 66 percent of the state average. Industrials were less than half the state average. Residential customers paid 15 percent below the state average, Central Hudson said in its statement.

For residential customers, the institute found Rochester Gas & Electric was lower than Central Hudson and New York State Electric and Gas was slightly higher. National Grid was slightly higher than NYSEG. The costliest utility was far and away Con Edison, which serves New York City and Westchester County.

(Click to read the entire)

Who's going to pay to ensure local water wells are not polluted by Marcellus Shale drilling?

State officials said this week they are still trying to figure that out, but Broome County may be off the hook. The state's proposal that would require local health departments to oversee gas drilling is being reconsidered in light of an order by Gov. David Patterson.

That order, signed in April, prohibits state mandates on municipalities without assessing their full economic impact, including costs and benefits.

Claudia Hutton, head of public affairs for the state Department of Health, said the governor's policy has led to rethinking a regulatory proposal by the DEC that would leave oversight of water quality testing in drilling zones to local health departments.

"We're very mindful of the governor's concerns about the impact of costs to local governments," she said. "We haven't made a decision about how we're going to handle this."

(Click to read the entire article)

Corning, N.Y.

A debate raging across the state took center stage in Corning on Wednesday evening as the state Department of Environmental Conservation held a public hearing on its new regulations for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Hundreds crowded the auditorium at Corning East High School, and dozens spoke passionately about their concerns. Many drew loud applause as others held up signs protesting the impending drilling boom in the Southern Tier, television cameras rolled and police officers watched.

The controversy centers around the Marcellus, a deep underground, previously untapped formation thought to contain the richest supply of gas in North America. Thousands of new wells are expected across upstate New York, and drilling them requires massive amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals.

The process generates huge amounts of waste water and has been linked to a wide array of environmental problems. Opponents say the Marcellus boom will be on a much larger scale than drilling that has occurred here in the past, with heavy truck traffic and big areas of land being bulldozed.

But the boom is also expected to bring a windfall to landowners who sign gas leases, as well as a significant boost to the upstate New York economy. More than a year ago, the DEC was charged with updating its regulations, turning out an 800-page draft for review, and Wednesday’s public hearing in Corning was one of only a handful held across the state.

Many in attendance claimed the regulations weren’t nearly stringent enough.

(Click to read the entire article)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Last night, Rep. Eric Massa sent a letter to Governor David Paterson to request a 60 day extension for the public comment period on New York State's draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement regarding the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. Massa's request would extend the public comment period from 60 days to 120 days. Massa's letter comes in response to the hundreds of requests for extension that constituents have voiced to the Congressional office. Link

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- The Community Science Institute, a non-profit group based out of Ithaca, detailed what they call the dangers of possible water contamination when it comes to hydro-fracking. The group held a public forum Wednesday night in Binghamton.

Speakers believe the DEC's environmental impact report isn't comprehensive enough.

"I think a little more time is warranted, the gas isn't going anywhere, it's been there millions of years, gas prices are at historic lows, supplies are at historic highs, so take a little time we only have one supply water," said Helen Slottje.

Once the public comment period is over, the DEC could elect to conduct further studies or begin issuing drilling permits.

Acting on our concerns about the extensive environmental and health damages that are likely to be caused by drilling gas wells in the Marcellus Shale if horizontal drilling and high pressure hydrofracturing are allowed in New York State, the Steuben County Green Party adopted a resolution November 16, 2009, calling on the state legislature to adopt a ban on permitting gas wells that use these techniques. In so doing, the party joins the Green Party of New York and 63 other groups across New York State calling for such a ban.

The resolution lists the reasons why the party is calling for a ban:

Because of our concerns that environmental and health damages lasting long beyond our lifetimes will extend across New York State if gas drilling is permitted using horizontal drilling and high pressure hydrofracturing,

Because damaging economic consequences to residential and commercial property values, tourism, agriculture, forestry, wineries, colleges and universities will result from damaging health effects,

Because the infrastructure costs of building and repairing roads, water treatment facilities, and other public services needed by the gas drilling industry will exceed the economic benefit to local communities,

Because New York State has no laws restricting industrial scale water withdrawals from our rivers, lakes and aquifers,

Because the citizens of New York are not protected from the toxic effects of oil and gas drilling by Federal and New York State environmental laws that apply to other industries,

Because the subsidies granted to oil and gas drilling promote the use of fossil fuels and undermine the development of conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy sources, and

Because the global warming effects of the methane in natural gas are many times greater than the global warming effects of carbon dioxide,

Be it resolved that the Steuben County Green Party calls on the New York State legislature to adopt a ban on permitting gas wells that use horizontal drilling and hydro-fracturing to release gas from tight sand and shale formations.

(Sign Petition)

Wind Act threatens our landscape

The recent acknowledgment by the National Geographic Society that the Berkshires are one of the earth’s 10 greatest tourist destinations (Berkshire Eagle Nov. 19) is a significant distinction. It highlights that our primary attraction is an intact natural landscape.

Protecting the Berkshire landscape has always been a concern of local zoning authorities, the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, and numerous land preservation groups and citizen activists. Towards this end the Berkshires have time and again put an end to many proposals which would scar or blight our mellow landscape.

Today the commonwealth’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs has authored proposed legislation which has the potential of seeing over 700 wind turbines built on the Berkshire’s commanding ridgelines. The Wind Energy Siting Reform Act would effectively remove all local control over siting these behemoth turbines. The intent of this legislation is to shift the decision-making powers over the siting of these turbines from the municipalities to a newly forming Energy Facility Siting Board whose composition would be carefully screened so as to appear to represent Berkshire community and environmental interests. However you can bet your bottom dollar that when critical votes are taken by that board the utility interests will always come out on top.

Some years ago I served for six years on the commonwealth’s Energy Facility Siting Council whose board was composed so as to appear to represent community and environmental interests when in fact the majority of voting members had deep ties to the industry which they were called upon to regulate. In a word the proposed siting board is a sham and I would urge all those who love the Berkshire hills to call Sen. Downing and ask him to put this bill aside. His office phone number is (413) 442-4008. Thank you so much.



The writer is president emeritus of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council.

The five-year-old Voice Your Choice electricity program came to an end this year, but customers of Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. will have an ongoing opportunity in 2010 to make choices about their electricity service.

Or they can choose nothing, which would keep them in the RG&E tent.

The new sign-up opportunity is an expansion to allow selection of competing energy service companies year-round instead of during a defined period toward the end of each year.

The new approach to choice begins on Jan. 1, when RG&E and New York State Electric and Gas Corp. customers will be able to choose to receive electricity from either their utility or from a competing energy services company at any time, according to Dick Marion, RG&E spokesman.

The biggest change is that RG&E and NYSEG will no longer offer fixed-price options for electricity as of Jan. 1. Energy service companies, also known as ESCOs, will continue to do so.

(Click to read the entire article)

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