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Hurricane impact could be felt here

Isaac1Hurricane Isaac has already blown through Haiti, Cuba and Southern Florida. Now experts say it's headed to the Gulf Coast.

Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana have all declared states of emergency. About 10.5 percent of the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have been evacuated, which is expected to reduce oil production by about 24 percent per day and natural gas production by 8 percent daily.

An article on Forbes is predicting Isaac could give Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive hurricane in history, a run for its money in terms of destruction and economic impact, especially when it comes to the energy industry:

When it comes to offshore oil and gas rig infrastructure in 2012 versus 2005, the biggest difference is that the rigs placed into the Gulf of Mexico in the last several years have been hardened to resist Category 4 or 5 hurricanes. However, up until now, other than Hurricane’s Gustav and Ike in 2008, there has been no real test of the endurance of newer ‘hurricane resistant’ infrastructure that has replaced much of the aging platforms in 2005.  Isaac may very well be the storm to test the fortitude of the newer offshore hardware.

Natural gas and oil prices are expected to increase accordingly:

The hurricane damage inflicted by Katrina caused oil prices to increase from the mid-$60s per barrel to over $70/bbl and gasoline prices at the pump rocketed to near $5 a gallon in some areas of the US. The US government released oil from its stockpile in the Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR) to offset price rises. In the natural gas market, prices were trading in the $9 to $10/MMBtu range at the time, but spiked to over $15/MMBtu as the full extent of the damage became apparent . . . . In terms of energy prices, it’s very likely that the oil and gas markets will react bullishly to Isaac when traders come back to work on Monday

Covering up climate change causes?

TillersonFor years, there have been two camps of people: those who believe that the burning of fossil fuels is changing our climate, and those who believe that climate change is a bunch of hooey.

On Wednesday, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson came down on the side that believes global warming is happening and that it's a man-made problem. But, he said, it's not that big of a deal.

Ross Gelbspan, author of the book Boiling Point, would beg to differ. He was a Boston Globe reporter when he came across a concerted effort to cover up research showing the dooming effects of climate change. It scared him enough to leave his job and take on the issue full time.

CoalGelbspan writes on his web page:

Thinking about the issue, it quickly became clear that the coal and oil industries constitute one of the biggest commercial enterprises in history – and that their very survival is threatened by the imperatives of climate change. The science is unambiguous on one point: climate stabilization requires that humanity cut its consumption of carbon fuels by about 80 percent. The motivation behind the disinformation campaign was very clear – as was the reporting imperative. In this case, it was also the path into an amazing drama – a once-in-a-lifetime story -- that, unfortunately, has largely unfolded outside the spotlit arena of public awareness.


 His Web site,, collects a dizzying amount of information, research and news about climate change and its effects. It also collects a fair amount of disinformation it has found in the media and elsewhere; news distorting the science around climate change and bogus studies funded by those with an economic or political interest in fostering skepticism about global warming.

Which side do you believe?

Fracking study has some cracks?

Hydrofracking is getting safer, thanks to better oversight and industry practices, according to a new report from the University at Buffalo.


The study found that environmental violations related to newly-drilled wells were cut in half from 2008 to 2011.

 "While prior research has anecdotally reviewed state regulations, now we have comprehensive data that demonstrates, without ambiguity, that state regulation coupled with improvements in industry practices results in a low risk of an environmental event occurring in shale development, and the risks continue to diminish year after year," said Timothy J. Considine, a University of Wyoming economics professor and the lead author of the UB report.

But Considine himself has come under fire for his ties to the oil and gas industry. He has been called "the energy industry's go-to academic for highlighting the positives, and not the negatives, of fossil fuel development."

While at Penn State, Considine published a report paid for by the Marcellus Shale Coalition that exaggerated the number of jobs that could potentially be created through fracking and ignored the dangers associated with it. Considine's work has been used by many groups in lobbying for a lift on the hydrofracking ban, as it was In June at the Manhattan Institute.

Funding of UB's Shale Resources and Society Institute has also come into question. And other UB students and professors have come out against it.

"Like the shale itself, UB's reputation is being looted, leaving a mess and a stink. What a forked-tongue piece of laundered frackaganda this is," wrote UB professor Jim Holstun in the Buffalo News comments section under a recent article about the study.

Are electric cars really the better choice?


Ford Motor Co. is turning heads as it prepares to unveil electric and gas-powered versions of the same model of vehicle, the Focus. Debate has raged over whether electric cars are an appropriate replacement to fossil fuel-dependent traditional cars, but Ford's experiment provides the first opportunity for consumers to compare the tangible, user-level pros and cons for themselves.

So what are the arguments for and against electric vehicles?


According to the  U.S. Department of Energy, electric cars are more efficient than gas-powered ones, are better for the environment, quieter and don't rely on a foreign fuel source. Most of their problems, the DOE says, are related to their batteries, which are heavy, expensive, space-consuming and take a long time to charge. Gas vehicles can travel about 300 miles between fill ups, while electric cars can go about 200 miles between recharges. (Motorheads can get an in-depth look at the nuts and bolts of the electric car via this blog from Scientific American.)


A documentary called Who Killed the Electric Car posits that the only reason we're not already all driving electric cars is the fault of "an industrial culture whose aversion to change and reliance on oil may be deeper than its ability to embrace ready solutions."


Indeed, many Americans (on the right, left and middle of the political spectrum) have said they would prefer it if their country did not rely on the middle east for its energy supply. For many, it's not a question of pollution or consumer choice, but a matter of keeping our country safe and our soldiers out of war zones. It's a campaign issue for both Democrats and Republicans. Experts have said producing cars that don't run on gasoline is a major step in that direction.

The fact that electric cars don't burn fossil fuel is their major selling point, not just because they're not foreign-oil dependent, but because their emissions don't pollute the environment. But Time magazine's HealthLand blog claims electric cars are just as polluting as gas-powered ones--at least in China, where the electricity used to charge them is predominately sourced from the burning of coal. That's an easy fix, though, since Americans have more clean, domestic power sources available to us--hydropower, solar power, wind power.


In a post called "Why electric cars are awesome," CleanTechnica points out Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have been called a failure by the media for selling only 17,000 units by January, even though just 6,000 Toyota Prius sedans were sold in their first year and have since taken the market by storm.

And even though electric car sales pale in comparison to sales of cars with traditional combustion engines, demand for them far outpaces supply.


"People debated at length whether the Nissan Leaf all-electric car would be practical or cheap enough for the mainstream. But that debate was moot because Nissan doesn't have enough Leafs to sell to the mainstream anyway . . . . The limiting factor right now is not public interest in electric cars, it's the car companies' ability to make them," writes the Good News blog from Good magazine.

At the time the blog was written, the Leaf had a 20,000 person waiting list.

Ford's experiment will be one indication of consumer preference, though it may not be able to solve the theoretical riddles surrounding the question of gas vehicles versus electric ones.

What's your opinion? 

Concerned bank investors speak out.

From Business Today:


First Niagara Financial Group CEO John R. Koelmel spent much of the company's annual meeting defending himself and the company's business strategies Wednesday. He spoke before about 75 investors, many of them disgruntled about First Niagara stock's decline and dividend cut in 2011. Koelmel attributed the bank's slipping performance to several factors outside the company's control and said it had nothing to do with its $1 billion purchase of 195 HSBC Bank USA branches.


Profits were up at Evans Bancorp during the first quarter. Profits rose at the 26.9 percent from a year ago.  It reported net income of $2.4 million, or 58 cents per share, up from $1.9 million, or 46 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. The increase was attributed to growing loan revenues, rising deposits and strenghtened credit. Evans Bancorp is the Hamburg-based parent of Evans Bank.


Pinnacle Airlines will be under the microscope of federal aviation safety inspectors since filing for bankruptcy, to be sure the company's financial problems will not encourage it to take shortcuts that might put passengers at risk. Enhanced oversight is the standard policy for the Federal Aviation Administration when any passenger airline files for bankruptcy.


The New York State Power Authority's Recharge New York program will give 64 Western New York Companies low-cost electricity. The biggest local recipient, Calspan Corp., will receive 5,500 kilowatts. Others to receive the low-cost power include Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo General Hospital, and Yahoo Inc.



Profits were up at Financial Institutions during the first quarter. Profits rose six percent, while the company reported net income of $6.2 million, or 42 cents per common share, up from $5.8 million, or 33 cents per share, a year ago. The bump is attributed to an increase in loans and lending income. Financial Institutions is the Warsaw-based parent company of Five Star Bank.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

The Reverend Horton Heat will be at the Tralf tonight:


Solar Liberty extends reach.

From Business Today:


College students looking for off-campus housing are warned to read leases carefully and not succumb to high-pressure sales tactics. One UB student's experience with a misleading salesman is indicative of a larger problem around campuses in Western New York and across the nation, experts said. Critics said housing students is such a lucrative business that some for-profit companies take advantage of inexperienced teenagers.


Solar Liberty was recently named the largest solar power installation company in New York State for 2011, based on its number of systems installed and kilowatt capacity. But the thriving business was actually created out of the owners' desire to bring power to developing nations. The business allows its owners to donate equipment and funds to the Solar Liberty Foundation, a nonprofit serving developing countries.


Benjamin Lawsky is the first superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services, tasked with regulating banking and insurance. Business reporter Jonathan D. Epstein was able to sit down with him and ask some pressing questions about his new role in Sunday's BizTalk Q&A.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

From MoneySmart:


Prepaid debit cards are the single fastest-growing non-cash method of payment. But many of them come with so much fine print, even the savviest customers may have a hard time figuring out what the real costs are to use them. In a recent story, Consumer Reports magazine warns of hidden fees that can nickel and dime a user to death.

Happy Dyngus Day!


Making it in Buffalo

From Business Today:


Gary Hydock is taking another shot at the radiant heat business. He has acquired an East Side building, on Northampton Street near Genesee Street, and brought in some investors. Modular Radiant Technologies will market the panels to businesses, which Hydock believes are ready to drastically cut their heating costs. Hydock bet on radiant heat in the past with GCS Radiant, but that company folded in 2009 when customers began cutting back home-improvement spending.


A vacant former food plant in Wilson has a new owner. The former Pfeiffer Foods plant on Lake Street has been sold to Lawta Properties LLC for $419,000. Lawta owns and leases several parcels in Wilson, on most of which it grows corn. It did not respond for comment as to what the new site would be used for. Pfeiffer Foods was Wilson's largest private employer, employing 150 people to make salad dressing. Those jobs were consolidated to another facility in 2009 and the building has sat empty for three years. 


Businesses in Cheektowaga may be eligible for a low-rate loan from the Cheektowaga Economic Development Corp. The agency is offering five-year loans with a 0.5 percent interest rate to manufacturing, warehousing and wholesale distribution companies in the town to help them create jobs. Retail and service trade companies might also be considered. According to the job creation requirements, at least half of the jobs must go to workers who currently have low to moderate incomes. For more information, call 897-7200, Ext. 6, or visit 

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

The weather forecast calls for a high of 57 degrees and mostly sun:


Time runs out for Uniland--again

From Business Today:


A proposal meant to help out Western New York's coal-fired power plants has been left out of the state budget. The proposal would have had the New York Power Authority buy energy from the region's coal plants for three years. Critics said it propped up an outdated, dirty mode of energy, but proponents of the bill said it would provide much-needed help for the region's struggling power plants.


Computer Task Group has landed three new contracts, expanding its reach in the electronic medical records business. Two contracts are with major U.S. health systems, while the third is with one of the largest hospitals in the western United States, the company said. Terms of the deals were not disclosed.


Since the financial crisis hit, the American public has become cynical about the banking industry, to put it mildly. In his annual letter to investors, M&T Bank Corp. Chairman and CEO Robert G. Wilmers calls for the restoration of banking's integrity in order to win back public trust and the industry's good name.


Uniland Development Co. has missed a deadline to hold up its end of the bargain in a deal that landed them $490,000 in federal aid money. But the developer has been given more time to secure a tenant for its Lancaster industrial park and meet job creation requirements. The company has received a series of extensions over the years. The Eastport Commerce Center is located on the corner of Walden Avenue and Pavement Road. The grants it received came through Erie county and the Lancaster Industrial Development Agency.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

What a beautiful morning!


Natural gas prices too low?

From Business Today:


With natural gas prices dropping near a 10-year low, National Fuel Gas Co. has decided to pull back on plans to drill in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania until prices come back up. It's the second time it has scaled back in two months. Its natural gas production is still expected to increase significantly during the next fiscal year, and scaling back on this drilling should only have a "modest" effect on production, the Amherst-based company said. Natural gas prices are down 54 percent since June, to $2.25 per 1,000 cubic feet.


The Erie County Industrial Development Agency has put a moratorium on considering hotel renovation projects for tax breaks, but that didn't keep it from approving $275,000 in breaks for a project that fell outside the moratorium. The ECIDA Monday approved sales tax breaks on a $5.5 million renovation project at Cheektowaga's Millennium Hotel. Because the hotel qualified for the breaks under the agency's current guidelines, it decided to approve the breaks rather than risk a lawsuit from the hotel.


You'll soon notice a difference in Canadian currency the next time you cross the border. The money has undergone a redesign to make it more durable and secure and to prevent counterfeiting and fraud. $100 and $50 bills have already gone into circulation, $20 bills will come out later this year, and $10 and $5 bills are due by the end of 2013.


The ECIDA board was taken to task Monday for approving the controversial tax breaks on the Millennium Hotel. Just after the approval, members of the Occupy Buffalo activist group began vocally protesting the board's actions. The board's new chairman, retired Rep. John J. LaFalce, yelled at the protesters and told them they would no longer be able to attend such meetings. Public comment isn't allowed during the ECIDA's monthly board meetings--only during public hearings.


An advertising agency with offices in Buffalo has been recognized by its industry's premier publication. Advertising Age magazine ranked Eric Mower and Associates the 5th best place to work in its 2012 rankings. Winners were chosen through a rigorous process that included surveying employers and employees.

Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

 It's a great day for the Moody Blues:


Buffalo needs more venture capital

From Business Today:


Rep. Kathleen C. Hochul, D-Amherst, organized an economic action forum with several local leaders that was held at the University at Buffalo Tuesday. Elected officials, community organizers and business leaders and owners gave their thoughts on what it will take to rebuild Western New York. The region needs more venture capital, better ties among companies and colleges and locally-driven solutions, rather than plans from Albany, said Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo developer and the regional co-chairman of the Western New York Economic Development Council. 


Unemployment in the Buffalo Niagara region rose to its second-highest rate in 22 years for January. The local unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent during the first month of the year. During January 2010, the unemployment rate jumped as high as 9.6 percent here. By comparison, the rate was 5.6 percent in January 2007, before the recession hit. 


One day after cancelling all its flights without notice and stranding travelers at the Niagara Falls International Airport, Direct Air has announced it will suspend all service until May 15. The company said it had to ground Monday's flights because it couldn't afford the bill to fuel up its planes. Direct Air said the two month hiatus will allow it to address "operational matters." The company is telling travelers who have booked flights before May 15 to arrange for a refund with their credit card company.


 Synacor Inc. made a good showing during its first quarter as a publicly traded company. The Buffalo-based Internet content provider earned $7.7 million, or 34 cents per share, during the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $369,000, or 2 cents per share, a year ago. $6.1 million of its profits came from an income tax benefit stemming from a reduction in the company’s deferred tax assets.


Independent Health has been ranked number one by J.D. Power & Associatesfor the third year. The Williamsville-based insurance company ranked highest in customer satisfaction out of 13 companies in New York and New Jersey.



The company that owns the Great Wolf Lodge water park in Niagara Falls, Ontario has a new owner. Wall Street private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC said Tuesday it bought Great Wolf Resorts for $703 million. 


County ExecutiveMark Poloncarz has criticized the tax breaks doled out by local economic development agencies, and Lancaster Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli is not happy about it. At Tuesday's Lancaster IDA meeting, he accused Poloncarz of making changes to agency policies in order to reward political allies and suck up to union groups.  


Noco has bought three lubricant distribution warehouses in Pennsylvania from Windward Petroleum. The purchase widens Noco's lubricant distribution territory, which will now stretch from Buffalo to Vermont, and Ottawa, Ont., to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Who is getting hired, promoted and honored?

It's Wednesday. That's halfway to Friday:


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