Broome County and City of Binghamton officials announced Tuesday an agreement to bring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final public meeting on its multi-million-dollar hydraulic fracturing study to The Forum on Sept. 13 and 15.

The announcement brought weeks of uncertainty surrounding the meeting to a close. Originally slated for Aug. 12 at Binghamton University, a contract dispute led the EPA to move the event to the Oncenter Complex in Syracuse just three days before it was set to take place. The next day, the meeting was postponed after Onondaga County officials expressed concern about coming up with a security plan on short notice.

The reason the fracking forum will not be on consecutive days is because September 14 is primary day in New York and organizers wanted to avoid the potential conflict.

Broome County officials had been negotiating to bring the meeting back to the Binghamton area since the postponement. A representative from Plexus Logistics International, a firm hired by EPA contractor The Cadmus Group, was in town early last week to tour venues and meet with county and city officials, but an agreement hadn't been finalized until Tuesday.

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Energy monitoring program is launched

New York state has quietly launched a campaign to promote energy efficiency and is seeking 50 families in the Capital Region to participate in a program that would measure their electricity usage in the home.

The program, called Jumpstart NY, is being promoted mostly through websites including Facebook, Twitter, craigslist and blogging sites in addition to classified advertising.

Homeowners are being asked to agree to have a monitor installed in their homes free of charge that will measure their electricity usage.

The monitor will send information to a website where the homeowner will be able to view his "real-time" electric usage and also spot where power is being wasted.

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Gas drillers lack proper regulation

The energy industry thinks it has an answer to public demands for a moratorium on hydraulic-fracture gas drilling. "If an airplane crashes," they tell us, "we don't ground every airplane, do we?" It's a pithy analogy, easy to repeat, and seems like common sense. It's become an essential line in the gas industry's argument against regulation.

The problem with this analogy is that the industry's got it wrong.

The reason we don't ground every airplane after a crash is because the airline industry is well-regulated. For the airline industry to survive, it needs travelers to have confidence that the plane they board won't go down in flames. So the airlines have elaborate safety requirements, mountains of paperwork and a black box on every plane that records vital instrument data. If a plane crashes, an army of inspectors descends on the site, reassembles the aircraft and determines exactly what went wrong. Once a cause is established, changes to other aircraft are made. If a type of aircraft has to be grounded, it will be grounded. That's why you don't see the Concord flying anymore. The reason we get on planes at all is that we have confidence in the regulatory system that keeps them safe. Otherwise, we wouldn't fly. We'd drive, take a train or stay at home.

The government "grounds" all sorts of industry. When cadmium was found in children's bracelets, those bracelets were recalled. When a crib collapses and strangles a baby, that kind of crib goes off the market. Because of a stuck accelerator, Toyota recalled 2.3 million cars. If we can put the brakes on cars, cribs and bracelets, we can do the same with gas drilling.

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Local and federal officials remained tight-lipped Friday about closed-door negotiations into where to house the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final public meeting on its multi-million-dollar hydraulic fracturing study.

In a written statement, Broome County Deputy Executive Darcy Fauci said the county submitted everything the agency needed to The Cadmus Group, an EPA contractor, and is "hopeful for this resolution to this issue early next week."

The county and EPA contractors have been in talks about hosting the meeting at The Forum, a county-owned theater in downtown Binghamton.

While Broome officials have been negotiating a deal for rental and security costs inside the theater, the contractors have been in separate talks with the City of Binghamton for a security plan outside of the venue

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No deal set on EPA meeting

BINGHAMTON -- Broome County officials continued to negotiate with organizers behind closed doors Thursday, but a deal to host the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's final public meeting on its hydraulic fracturing study remained elusive.

Deputy County Executive Darcy Fauci said Broome officials held a conference call Thursday with meeting organizers and presented an itemized list of costs. She would not reveal the figures, saying they are "still very much in flux until all of the details related to this event are finalized" and there are "too many moving targets."

Bringing the meeting to Binghamton will require more than one agreement with the EPA. While the county is negotiating its own deal, the agency will also have to come to terms with the City of Binghamton and state police about the price of security outside of the Forum, on which the venue talks have centered.

The city was in contact Thursday evening with The Cadmus Group, a marketing firm contracted by the EPA, to discuss coordinating security plans.

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National Grid spending audit requested

ALBANY -- Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has called for an audit of spending by National Grid executives after her office uncovered lavish expenses by corporate officers that were passed on to ratepayers in that state.

The move is the latest by regulators in Massachusetts and New York to force the British utility to explain why it wants its customers to foot the bill for charges ranging from shipping an executive's wine collection overseas to private school tuition and hobnobbing with politicians.

National Grid is seeking a $370 million electric rate increase in its upstate New York service territory and a $106 million increase in natural gas rates in Massachusetts.

Spending by company executives at various National Grid subsidiaries has become a major issue in both requests. National Grid has said it has withdrawn many of the questionable expenses and is looking into others to ensure that customers don't get stuck with the tab. The company, which is based in London, has operations throughout New York and New England.

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New York's moratorium on Marcellus shale drilling allowed regulators there to learn from experiences in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, a top official said Tuesday.

New York state has not allowed gas well drilling into the shale for two years and plans to issue strict rules before doing so, said Jack Dahl, director of the Bureau of Oil and Gas Regulation in the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Regulators in New York would require companies to disclose chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing -- which Pennsylvania does not -- and to hold flowback water in closed containers, rather than the open pits allowed in Pennsylvania, Dahl said. New York would not issue permits for more wells than it could routinely inspect, Dahl said.

The number of permits for conventional gas wells in New York dropped to 552 last year from 744 the previous year, Dahl said, and likely will not break 500 this year. Gas companies are investing instead in states that permit Marcellus shale drilling, he said.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A natural-gas pipeline company has been given a hearing on its request to become a public utility, a legal status that could enable it to obtain property through eminent domain.

The proceeding before Public Utility Commission Administrative Law Judge Susan Colwell ended Monday with the parties having to file a "nonunanimous settlement" in a few weeks.

Laser Northeast Gathering LLC wants to build and operate the Pennsylvania portion of a roughly 30-mile pipeline to link Marcellus Shale natural gas wells in northeastern Pennsylvania and a pipeline in Broome County, N.Y.

PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher says those who favor the settlement will file statements in support, while opponents will file briefs on whatever issues remain. A final decision is expected sometime next year.

Prattsburgh Continues Wind Farm Ban

The board extended their moratorium on wind development for another six months, in order to allow more time to set up a wind utilities law. The law is being considered by the town zoning commission.

Wordingham said there has been no decision in the current legal battle between the town and developer Ecogen. Ecogen is looking to revoke decisions made by the current town board regarding its 16-turbine project.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of extending the moratorium, with Wordingham, and council members Steve Kula, Anneke Radin-Snaith, and Chuck Shick favoring the longer ban.

Councilwoman Stacey Bottoni voted against the extension, saying the town does not have the judge’s decision yet.

National Grid spending probe likely

ALBANY -- As state regulators wrestle with National Grid's plan to raise electric rates in upstate New York by $370 million, the state Public Service Commission is considering whether to start a separate investigation into the company's accounting practices.

One of the major issues in the rate case has been over how National Grid allocates spending through its subsidiaries -- and whether consumers are unfairly footing the bill for costs such as moving executives to the United States from the United Kingdom where the utility is headquartered. Regulators believe that National Grid has improperly billed consumers nearly $30 million for such expenses.

The issue, which was first uncovered in a management audit of the utility, has become so contentious that the five-person PSC may decide to tackle it separately from the rate proceeding, which is expected to be put to a vote in January.

At the commission's monthly meeting on Thursday, Wayne Brindley, the chief of the accounting and finance department of the Department of Public Service, discussed the issue with the commissioners.

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In the case of Andrew Cuomo, it was meant to be a rallying cry to voters to back his reform agenda as he attempts to move from New York attorney general to governor this November.

For Toxics Targeting president and gas drilling activist Walter Hang, it was a call to action to the hundreds of protesters who lined the streets and surrounded the Women's Community Building to greet the candidate as he came to town.

One was dressed in a hazardous material suit marked with the phrase "Inspector for 1,000 wells" and holding a "box of loopholes." Another held an empty leash and a sign that read "My dog drank the water."

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In February of this year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee revealed Halliburton and BJ Services, two oil and gas currently operating in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation, had used diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing operations in at least 15 states in from 2005 to 2007. The gas companies would not reveal to the committee where these injections occurred and may have broken the Safe Water Drinking Act laws.

Hydraulic drilling fracking operations inject millions of gallons of water combined with toxic chemical laden compounds to create intense high pressure to break and keep open underground shale rock formations which allows natural gas to be captured. The process is highly controversial with gas industry front groups stating the process is safe while government officials, residents in drilling areas and environmentalists are all increasingly concerned about the negative effects on drinking water supplies along with air and land damage from these other chemical pollutants which result from shale gas drilling operations.

Benzene and toulene, both toxic substances and known cancer causing agents in low concentrations are found in fracking solution compounds.

The Marcellus Shale formation covers almost two thirds of the state of Pennsylvania including more than 36% of the Delaware River Basin which supplies drinking water to millions in the greater Philadelphia area. There are more than 3700 Pennsylvania shale gas drilling permits currently issued to oil and gas companies, mostly to out of state firms. Shale gas formations are also found in Texas and Colorado along with other parts of the country.

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Fracking foes target Cuomo visit

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to visit Tompkins County on Thursday as part of a statewide tour to support his campaign for governor.

The Democrat will be appearing at the Women's Community Building, at 100 W. Seneca St. in Ithaca, at 11 a.m. before moving on to Montour Falls for a 12:30 p.m. visit to Montour House.

He will likely be greeted by local anti-gas drilling activists, who are organizing a rally outside of the building starting at 10:15 a.m.

Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, led a gathering of dozens of hydrofracturing opponents during a Cuomo campaign stop in Binghamton earlier this month, and he hopes an even larger crowd will assemble in Ithaca this week.

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Syracuse, NY -- The state Attorney General’s office has launched an investigation into possible misconduct by Cape Vincent officials as they consider plans to build more than 100 wind turbines in their town.

Opponents of the two proposed wind farms complained to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that the planning process was tainted by conflicts of interest on the town board and planning board.

Two out of five town board members and three out of five planning board members either personally have agreements to lease their land to wind developers, or have relatives with wind leases. The officials or their relatives stand to profit if the wind farms are built as proposed by BP Wind Energy and Acciona SA. Nothing has been built yet.

Cape Vincent is situated at the junction of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. The controversy over wind development has driven a wedge between year-round residents in favor of economic development and summer residents who say the 400-foot-tall wind turbines would mar the landscape. It was an issue in the November town supervisor race, won by a wind opponent. (Read the Feb. 14 story, "Windmills Stir Up a Storm in Cape Vincent.")

The Aug. 13 letter from the deputy chief of Cuomo’s Public Integrity Bureau gives the town two weeks to hand over all documents and communications relating to wind farm development from Jan. 1, 2005 to the present. It also seeks interviews with members of the town and planning boards during that time period.

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ALBANY (AP) - Gov. David Paterson says hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells in New York's part of the four-state Marcellus Shale region won't be allowed without “overwhelming evidence that nothing will happen” to harm clean water supplies.

In an interview Friday with Syracuse radio WSYR's Jim Reith, Paterson said the controversy over natural gas drilling is “obviously a clash between a very lucrative profit-making opportunity and a very serious public safety hazard.”

He said a decision on issuing gas drilling permits will be based on scientific evidence showing hydraulic fracturing is safe. Permits have been on hold for two years in New York while regulators complete a review.

Hydraulic fracturing uses chemical-laced water at high pressure to fracture gas-rich shale. Opponents say it threatens water supplies but the industry says it's been used safely for decades.

The New York Power Authority, which is considering private-sector proposals to erect offshore wind turbines, has failed to fully respond to a legal request made two months ago by the Democrat and Chronicle for information about the proposals.

The authority is promoting construction of one or more wind farms in the New York waters of Lake Ontario or Lake Erie, an idea that has stirred considerable controversy in shoreline communities. Because of that controversy, local officials and activists have also expressed interest in obtaining the information sought in the request.

An authority lawyer is nearly four weeks overdue in answering an administrative appeal filed by the Democrat and Chronicle. The appeal seeks reversal of a decision by a different authority official to deny public access to any documents from the wind-farm proposals.

A spokeswoman for the Power Authority, Connie Cullen, said Tuesday that the Democrat and Chronicle's appeal "is still under review" by the authority's executive vice president and general counsel, Terryl Brown. The appeal was filed June 30 with an addendum the following day. Under a provision of the Freedom of Information law, Brown should have responded no later than July 16.

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EPA will keep original speakers' list

Though it is currently without a date or a place, the 300 people who signed up to speak during the original EPA meeting will remain on the list when it is rescheduled, a marketing firm hired by the EPA announced Wednesday.

Those who canceled because of the meeting's abrupt move to Syracuse will still remain on the list, The Cadmus Group said in an e-mail.

The list of those registered to attend but not speak will also be preserved.

Also Wednesday, several environmental groups -- including the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter and Environmental Advocates of New York -- called on the EPA to promptly reschedule the meeting and extend the public comment period on its study. EPA researchers have said they hope to unveil a study design in September.

A scheduled Thursday hydro-fracking forum that was abruptly moved to Syracuse from Binghamton on Monday has been postponed.

The Environmental Protection Agency will delay the forum from its original Aug. 12 date, said Sandy Baker, vice president of sales and marketing at the Oncenter.

Oncenter representatives said the Thursday date was too close to accommodate the expected crowd for the fracking forum.

"We have a beautiful convention center here that can easily accommodate 1,000 or 1,200 people, but in the last day we continued to get calls about additional people, and that number is easily growing to more than 5,000,” Baker said. “In order to accommodate all of the safety issues, we need more time to plan this.”

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Natural gas drilling task force set up

The heads of committees looking at the effect natural gas drilling could have on Steuben County are in place, according to county Legislature Chairman Patrick Donnelly, R-Bath.

Donnelly told the county Legislature’s Agriculture, Industry and Planning Committee Monday the Task Force’s Public Safety Committee will be led by county District Attorney John Tunney, with county Department of Social Services Commissioner Kathy Muller heading up the Housing Committee. Local attorney Karl Anderson will chair the Roads and Infrastructure Committee, Donnelly said.

The chairs will also be a part of the Natural Gas Task Force Steering Committee, which now includes county Administrator Mark Alger, county Planning Director Amy Dlugos, county Legislator Joe Hauryski, R-Campbell, Erwin Town Supervisor David B. Erwin and Donnelly.

The task force was set up to prepare for the impact drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas fields under Steuben County.

The drilling is expected to have a significant impact on county operations in a number of areas, including the economy, roads and bridges, housing, social structures, crime, and health care.

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VESTAL -- The Binghamton University Events Center has played host to some major touring acts since it opened in 2004, including folk legend Bob Dylan, rapper Ludacris, and popular bands Green Day and the Foo Fighters.

On Thursday, it expects to host a non-traditional group, but one still expected to attract a large crowd: the Environmental Protection Agency.

About 1,200 people have already registered to attend a public meeting on the EPA's study on hydraulic fracturing, according to the agency, with a large walk-up crowd expected to bolster that number. However, as of Saturday evening, a contract between BU and the EPA hadn't been signed, securing the Events Center as the venue for the meeting. A final decision regarding the venue isn't expected to be made until Monday.

Despite that, all 300 speaking slots have been filled for weeks, with a handful reserved for a few lucky participants who will snatch them up on a first-come, first-served basis on Thursday.

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In less than a week, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to be in the area to host the largest public meeting on its $1.9 million study of hydraulic fracturing.

Just where will that meeting take place? That's up in the air.

More than 1,200 people are already registered to attend the Aug. 12 event, but the venue has yet to be determined, according to Binghamton University and the EPA. It was expected to take place in BU's Anderson Center for the Performing Arts — as it was advertised on the EPA's website — but the school and agency are apparently at odds.

"Unfortunately, the university recently informed the agency that it decided to change the meeting location from an air-conditioned hall to a campus gymnasium with no air conditioning," EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said in a statement late Thursday.

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Opponents of natural gas drilling in the Southern Tier's Marcellus shale formation are cheering the state Senate's approval of a short-term moratorium.

The measure sailed through the Senate, 49-9, late Tuesday night. If approved by the Assembly and Gov. David Paterson, permits to drill for natural gas in the formation would be delayed until May 15, 2011.

Now the focus turns to the Assembly, where Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said he supported withholding drilling permits until more information is available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An Assembly vote isn't likely until September.

Paterson said he wanted to see what the state Department of Environmental Conservation determines in an impact analysis, which is expected before year's end.

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Close to three dozen people showed up at Rochester City Hall today to voice their opinions on the proposed rate increases requested by Rochester Gas and Electric Corp.

The hearings were held by the state Public Service Commission. And much of the crowd was opposed to the proposals.

“Utility costs are already unaffordable for more and more households in Monroe County,” Trudy Harper of the Monroe County Workers Benefit Council said to applause from part of the audience. “Any increase is too much.”

Peggy Johnson, also a member of the political activist group, urged state regulators to deny the increase, saying money RG&E says it needs to improve its infrastructure likely would be used to make improvements that also would cost RG&E workers their jobs.

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The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association has reviewed environmental violations accrued by Marcellus Shale drillers working in Pennsylvania between January 2008 and June 25, 2010. The records were obtained via a Right to Know Request made to the Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP records show a total of 1,435 violations of state Oil and Gas Laws due to gas drilling or other earth disturbance activities related to natural gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale in this 2.5-year period.

The Association identified 952 violations as having or likely to have an impact on the environment. 483 were identified as likely being an administrative or safety violation and not likely to have the potential to negatively impact the environment.

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While the larger energy companies that formerly drilled for natural gas in the Trenton-Black River formation have abandoned those activities for the more favorable drilling rules in Pennsylvania, smaller companies are creeping back in to drill in the Southern Tier.

With names like Anschutz Exploration and Epsilon Energy USA and MegaEnergy Operating Inc., the drilling companies are not only continuing to explore the Trenton-Black River (TBR) formation, which lies at depths of 10,000 to 12,000 feet -- beneath the Marcellus and Utica shale -- they are also sinking their drill bits in the Oriskany sandstone formation.

Found just above the TBR, Oriskany sandstone was formed about 400 million years ago and runs roughly from West Virginia and into Pennsylvania and New York. Geologists estimate it holds about 11 billion cubic feet of gas.

While a good well in a sandstone formation like the Oriskany may produce between 500,000 and 1 million cubic feet of gas per day, a well in Marcellus Shale will likely produce 10 times that amount, geologists say.

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