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Tioga County monitors Susquehanna for fracking waste

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Officials are worried that wastewater and fracking chemicals could pollute the Susquehanna River.

Fracking round-up
There are a slew of articles about gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in the papers today, unrelated to Halliburton's refusal to hand its fracking formula over to the EPA.

The Press & Sun-Bulletin has an item noting that about three-quarters of violations by trucks in Pennsylvania were trucks hauling wastewater from drilling sites.  Also in Pennsylvania, the paper reports that Dimock, Pa., home of the flaming drinking water, is getting $12 million from the state to build a water line to replace wells polluted by methane.  Residents and the town board have argued that Cabot Oil & Gas should be responsible for the cost of the water line, since its wells caused the methane pollution.  Cabot continues to deny responsibility; the state is suing to recoup the cost of the line.

The Associated Press reports in the Press & Sun-Bulletin that Chevron is planning to buy Atlas Energy in a $4.3 billion deal, to get a piece of the natural gas drilling market.  Prices for natural gas are low right now, so it's a good time for bigger companies to buy smaller operations with gas plays.

In Rochester, a group of activists performed protest theater at a local water reservoir, to promote their anti-fracking agenda.  The Democrat and Chronicle reports that acts included a flaming hula hooper, setting glasses of "drinking water" on fire (just like in Dimock), and dumping fake drilling chemicals into the reservoir.  But the real fireworks came when the fire department showed up in response to the hula hooping:

Four Rochester police cars arrived after that, one of them driven by Executive Deputy Chief George Markert, who said he couldn't resist coming by after picking up a radio call for 30 people with flaming Hula Hoops. Firefighters pointed out that the group had unknowingly been playing with fire very near an underground tank of explosive propane, and Markert asked them to move. The protest broke up a short while later.

The Press & Sun-Bulletin reports that officials in Tioga County are beginning to monitor water quality in the Susquehanna, because of pollution concerns related to fracking.  The Susquehanna River Basic Commission (SRBC) will watch water quality and raise alarms:

Stations will be located along the Apalachin Creek watershed in Owego and the Upper Catatonk Creek watershed in Spencer. With installation expected in December, the stations will be operational by January, according to the SRBC. "From the beginning, we knew that water quality monitoring was something that we would strive for. It's definitely a major focus," said Elaine Jardine, Tioga County planning director and a member of Tioga Investigates Natural Gas.

And finally, if you're not sure what flaming hula hoops, truck drivers and rivers have to do with natural gas, Broome Community College's "Hydrofracking 101" might be for you.  It's happening Thursday at 11 a.m., and environmentalist and fracking critic Walter Hang will be speaking, according to the Press & Sun-Bulletin.

Seneca president sworn in
A new president of the Seneca Nation was sworn in earlier this week.  Robert Odawi Porter's platform includes diversifying the tribe's economy beyond cigarettes and casinos, reports the Buffalo News:

"If we are truly to secure the future of the Seneca Nation and the Seneca people, we must start making smarter choices about how we are living our lives and spending our money," said Porter, 47. "The [Seneca] Nation must diversify if we are to continue on the path of prosperity." While the tribe is a relatively small group, with about 7,800 members, the Senecas are growing in importance in the local economy. They are now one of the region's biggest employers. Seneca officials say their casino operations employ 5,000 people and have an economic impact of $1 billion a year.

Debt ceiling
New York is bumping up against its credit card limit, reports the Times Union.  The state can only borrow up to 4 percent of what residents make in income statewide, because that's what funds borrowing for capital projects.  Now various state departments are trying to get their capital expenditures to be considered outside of the cap, so they can keep borrowing.  But those efforts are rubbing advocates for taxpayers the wrong way:

"The solution ... is not to carve out pieces here and there," said Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director for the Citizens Budget Commission, which critiques state debt and spending. Lynam said it's easy to rationalize pulling any number of items out of the borrowing cap. What's needed, she believes, is a better way of controlling and regulating capital debt.

The election that goes on and on and on
The Democrat and Chronicle has a look at how health care overhaul played into last week's election.  The Post-Standard digs into why counting the votes this year was so fraught with snags.  And in a closely watched recount, 25th congressional district Republican challenger Ann Marie Buerkle picked up three votes.  That gives her a 687 vote lead over Democratic incumbent Dan Maffei.  The count goes on.

County budgets
Monroe County released its budget for 2011 on Wednesday.  The spending plan stays balanced, and the tax rate stays flat, through the proposed sale of several county properties and tax liens, as well as staff cuts.

Meanwhile, Erie County, still haunted by budget control boards of years past, is "tightening its belt," according to the Buffalo News.  The county executive wants lay-offs and cuts to department budgets - despite an $88 million reserve fund.

Food prices|
The Times Union reports that prices for staples like meat and eggs are starting to rise after being flat for about a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

"Food prices are beginning to edge up after a long period of stability," said Bill Cook, an economist for the bureau. The price increases may not yet be dramatic enough to affect already-strained shoppers: 64 percent of upstate New York respondents in October told the Siena Research Institute in Loudonville that food prices are having a serious impact on their budgets.

Rising gas prices, which are key to transportation costs, are also playing into higher costs for produce and other grocery goods.

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