SEC Delays Ruling on BlackRock ETF

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has pushed back its deadline for whether to approve a BlackRock Inc. (BLK) copper exchange-traded fund, a week after approving a similar product sponsored by J.P. Morgan Chase Co. (JPM).

The SEC will issue a final rule on the BlackRock ETF, which would buy and store physical copper on behalf of investors, by Feb. 22, the securities regulator said in a statement posted Friday on its website.

BlackRock’s fund would be about twice the size of J.P. Morgan’s ETF, holding about 121,200 metric tons of copper compared with J.P. Morgan’s XF Physical Copper Trust’s 61,800 tons.

A BlackRock spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The SEC said it needed time to consider the issues around the proposed fund, including those raised in letters from copper industry participants opposed to the fund. The regulator, using similar language, had also delayed its ruling for J.P. Morgan’s product by two months before approving it on Dec. 14.

Copper users have complained to the SEC that physical-copper ETFs would make the metal more scarce and drive up prices. The copper ETFs that are currently available trade futures for the metal.

In its approval of the J.P. Morgan product on Dec. 14, the SEC said the ETF was unlikely to disrupt the supply of copper available for immediate delivery or have a direct impact on market prices.

Both products would be listed on NYSE Arca, a division of NYSE Euronext (NYX).

(Tatyana Shumsky contributed to this article.)

-Write to Matt Day at matt.day@dowjones.com

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Copyright © 2012 Dow Jones Newswires

NJ Pension Fund Sues NYSE Over ICE Deal

A pension fund that holds shares in NYSE Euronext has sued the exchange operator over its proposed $8.2 billion sale to IntercontinentalExchange Inc, saying the deal undervalues the company’s stock.

The New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund on Monday filed a complaint in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan contending that NYSE Euronext breached its duty to maximize returns for shareholders. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other NYSE Euronext shareholders and aims to block the sale.

It is the second such lawsuit filed against the exchange operator since the deal was announced on Thursday. An individual shareholder, Samuel Cohen, filed a proposed class action in Delaware Chancery Court on Friday that also seeks to prevent the buyout from going forward.

Under the deal, NYSE Euronext, which operates the New York Stock Exchange, will sell itself to Atlanta-based ICE. The stock-and-cash deal is expected to close in the second half of 2013.

At $33.12 per share, the deal represents a 28 percent premium over NYSE Euronext’s closing price last Wednesday.

In court papers, the New Jersey pension fund said the deal was based on a “hopelessly flawed process” that would favor NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Duncan Niederauer and several members of its board of directors.

The sale was “designed to ensure the sale of NYSE Euronext to ICE on terms preferential to ICE and designed to benefit NYSE Euronext’s insiders,” the pension fund said.

A spokesman for NYSE Euronext declined to comment. A spokeswoman for ICE, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit also names as defendants Niederauer, NYSE Euronext Chairman Jan-Michiel Hessels, and other executives and board members.

The cases are New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund et al. v. NYSE Euronext et al., Supreme Court of the State of New York, No. 654496/2012, and Cohen v. NYSE Euronext et al, Delaware Court of Chancery, No. 8136.

New Jersey pension fund sues NYSE Euronext over ICE deal

A pension fund that holds shares in NYSE Euronext has sued the exchange operator over its proposed $8.2 billion sale to IntercontinentalExchange Inc , saying the deal undervalues the company’s stock.

The New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund on Monday filed a complaint in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan contending that NYSE Euronext breached its duty to maximize returns for shareholders. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other NYSE Euronext shareholders and aims to block the sale.

It is the second such lawsuit filed against the exchange operator since the deal was announced on Thursday. An individual shareholder, Samuel Cohen, filed a proposed class action in Delaware Chancery Court on Friday that also seeks to prevent the buyout from going forward.

Under the deal, NYSE Euronext, which operates the New York Stock Exchange, will sell itself to Atlanta-based ICE. The stock-and-cash deal is expected to close in the second half of 2013 [nL5E8NK7YE].

At $33.12 per share, the deal represents a 28 percent premium over NYSE Euronext’s closing price last Wednesday.

In court papers, the New Jersey pension fund said the deal was based on a “hopelessly flawed process” that would favor NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Duncan Niederauer and several members of its board of directors.

The sale was “designed to ensure the sale of NYSE Euronext to ICE on terms preferential to ICE and designed to benefit NYSE Euronext’s insiders,” the pension fund said.

A spokesman for NYSE Euronext declined to comment. A spokeswoman for ICE, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit also names as defendants Niederauer, NYSE Euronext Chairman Jan-Michiel Hessels, and other executives and board members.

The cases are New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund et al. v. NYSE Euronext et al., Supreme Court of the State of New York, No. 654496/2012, and Cohen v. NYSE Euronext et al, Delaware Court of Chancery, No. 8136.

(Reporting By Nick Brown; Editing by Martha Graybow and Andrew Hay)

New Jersey pension fund sues NYSE Euronext on ICE deal

A pension fund that holds shares in NYSE Euronext has sued the exchange operator over its proposed $8.2 billion sale to IntercontinentalExchange Inc , saying the deal undervalues the company’s stock.

The New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund on Friday filed a complaint in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan contending that NYSE Euronext breached its duty to maximize returns for shareholders. The lawsuit seeks class-action status on behalf of other NYSE Euronext shareholders and aims to block the sale.

It is the second such lawsuit filed against the exchange operator since the deal was announced on Thursday. An individual shareholder, Samuel Cohen, filed a proposed class action in Delaware Chancery Court on Friday that also seeks to prevent the buyout from going forward.

Under the deal, NYSE Euronext, which operates the New York Stock Exchange, will sell itself to Atlanta-based ICE. The stock-and-cash deal is expected to close in the second half of 2013.

At $33.12 per share, the deal represents a 28 percent premium over NYSE Euronext’s closing price last Wednesday.

In court papers, the New Jersey pension fund said the deal was based on a “hopelessly flawed process” that would favor NYSE Euronext Chief Executive Duncan Niederauer and several members of its board of directors.

The sale was “designed to ensure the sale of NYSE Euronext to ICE on terms preferential to ICE and designed to benefit NYSE Euronext’s insiders,” the pension fund said.

A spokesman for NYSE Euronext declined to comment. A spokeswoman for ICE, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit also names as defendants Niederauer, NYSE Euronext Chairman Jan-Michiel Hessels, and other executives and board members.

The cases are New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund et al. v. NYSE Euronext et al., Supreme Court of the State of New York, No. 654496/2012, and Cohen v. NYSE Euronext et al, Delaware Court of Chancery, No. 8136.

(This story corrects second paragraph to say lawsuit was filed on Friday)

(Reporting By Nick Brown; Editing by Martha Graybow, Andrew Hay and Bob Burgdorfer)

Santa Claus comes to town and Norad has him on radar

Santa Claus has delivered billions of presents to children around the world and is already delivering gifts in some Canadian communities, according to the team at the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) tracking his reindeer and sleigh.

By 9 p.m. ET, Santa had delivered presents to Alert in Canada’s far north, Norad said on its website. He later made stops in Canada’s east coast.

Volunteers at Peterson Air Force Base, headquarters of Norad’s annual Santa-tracking operation, are in Colorado monitoring Santa’s progress. Monday evening they were on pace to break last year’s record of 107,000 calls from children wanting to know everything from old Saint Nick’s age, to how reindeer fly, to when they can expect their presents.

Each year, the job of watching out for Santa on Dec. 24 falls to Norad personnel — the same people who monitor North American skies year round.

Norad’s Santa-tracking work all started with a typo more than a half-century ago.

In 1955, a department store advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper gave the wrong phone number for children to talk to Santa at the Sears Toyland.

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Instead, the children were ringing through to the operations hotline for the then Continental Air Defence Command, a predecessor of the bi-national Norad command that was created in 1958.

The American director of operations at the time, Col. Harry Shoup, heard his calling to pitch in as an elf and made the best of the mistake: he told his staff to check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole.

Children who called the number from then on were given updates on his location.

Tracking Santa in 2012 has become a major undertaking for Norad, with 1,250 volunteers on duty to provide updates to the public and media.

The tradition of a telephone hotline remains (1-877-HINORAD), but a countdown clock, videos and other information are also available on Norad’s website: www.noradsanta.org.

Military planners briefed Santa

Over 1,200 volunteers across North America track and report Santa's exact location to the media and the public throughout the day and night on Dec. 24.Over 1,200 volunteers across North America track and report Santa’s exact location to the media and the public throughout the day and night on Dec. 24. (YouTube/Norad Tracks Santa)

In footage of an earlier video teleconference between Norad commanders and Santa Claus posted on its website, Gen. Chuck Jacoby, Commander of Norad and U.S. Northern Command (U.S. Northcom) and his deputy, Lt.-Gen. Alain Parent from the Royal Canadian Air Force, walk Santa through the 2012 preparations.

“We’re going to make sure you get to everybody’s house Santa,” Jacoby assures him. “Don’t worry about the journey. We’ve got the watch.”

“Thank you,” Santa tells Jacoby and Parent. “Ho ho ho.”

Three high-tech systems track the flight of that one sleigh from the North Pole: radar, satellites and specially installed Santa cams that were installed at strategic locations around the world in 1998 for this one special day of use.

Norad is the first to know when the reindeer take off from the North Pole, thanks to its “North Warning System” of 47 installations that Norad’s team compares to a string of Christmas lights strung across the top of North America.

The Canadian Air Defence Sector at 22 Wing in North Bay, Ont., closely monitors this radar system to make sure Santa and his reindeer are not delayed.

Rudolph’s introduction to the reindeer team some years back also makes it possible for Norad to use its space satellites to track the sleigh’s journey: his nose gives off an infrared signature, the heat from which is picked up by the satellites’ sensors.

Finally, animation from the Santa cams is posted throughout the day on Dec. 24, giving keen observers a glimpse of the big man in motion.

Advice for Canadian kids

Over the years, Norad has been able to compile data of practical use to Canadian children plotting their own Christmas Eve agendas.

Santa usually starts at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and travels west. Historically, he visits the South Pacific first, then New Zealand and Australia. After that, he covers off Japan, Asia, Africa and then onto Western Europe, Canada, the United States, Mexico and Central and South America.

But Norad cautions that Santa’s exact route year to year can be affected by weather and remains unpredictable.

Santa Claus met with senior Norad commanders earlier this fall to begin preparations for this year's Christmas flight.Santa Claus met with senior Norad commanders earlier this fall to begin preparations for this year’s Christmas flight. (YouTube/Norad Tracks Santa)

“Norad co-ordinates with Santa’s Elf Launch staff to confirm his launch time, but from that point on, Santa calls the shots,” says Wright Eruebi, a spokesman for the Royal Canadian Air Forces 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg. “We just track him.”

In most countries, on average, Norad finds Santa arrives between 9 p.m. and midnight local time. But if children are still awake when Santa arrives, he has to move on to other houses and return later after they’re asleep.

Norad advises that one of the best ways children can help him out logistically (and, perhaps, stay on his “nice” list in the process) is to help him stick to his intended flight path by going to bed on time.

Magical flight

Faced with the eternal question of how St. Nicholas can pull it all off in one night, Norad researchers suggest Santa “functions within his own time-space continuum.”

That poses a real challenge for the two teams of Canadian CF-18 pilots assigned to escort him through Canadian airspace Monday night.


TRACKING SANTA
By the numbers: Santa’s sleigh
NORAD research explains the technology behind the Christmas Eve delivery run

“Santa travels at the speed of one T [in layman’s terms, a twinkling of an eye],” explains Eruebi. “Santa usually slows down the sleigh when Norad pilots are approaching, and he likes to wave and acknowledge the pilots when they tip their wing to show their respect.

“The main reason we [give Santa a fighter jet escort] is to treat him like the VIP that he is and, of course, to capture a few images of him in action,” Eruebi explains. “He slows down to allow our fighters to catch up and he humours us. He appears to like posing for the camera.”

On behalf of a five-year old reader in Ottawa, CBC News asked the air force what Santa’s fighter jet escort does while he’s on the roof of each house.

The CF-18s, Eruebi says, “simply wait.”

“Santa does a strange manoeuvre just before he disappears into a home through the chimney,” Eruebi says. “He switches back to the speed of one T and he’s gone.”

Mobile users, follow the live blog here.

Calls to Norad

GIFTS IN HEAVEN: One little boy from Missouri phoned in to ask what time Santa delivered toys to heaven, said volunteer Jennifer Eckels, who took the call. The boy’s mother got on the line to explain that his sister had died this year.

“I think Santa headed there first,” Eckels told him.

IS HE THERE YET?: James Solano took a call from a young girl and her father in Bangkok, asking when Santa would arrive. Solano checked the map and said it wouldn’t be long.

“The dad was saying, `We’ve got to get to bed soon,”‘ said Solano, an Army colonel.

“It was kind of neat,” he said. “They were very thrilled.”

SANTA KNOWS: Glenn Barr took a call from a 10-year-old who wasn’t sure if he would be sleeping at his mom’s house or his dad’s and was worried about whether Santa would find him.

“I told him Santa would know where he was and not to worry,” Barr said.

Another child asked if he was on the nice list or the naughty list.

“That’s a closely guarded secret, and only Santa knows,” Barr replied.

THE REAL DEAL: A young boy called to ask if Santa was real.

Air Force Maj. Jamie Humphries, who took the call, said, “I’m 37 years old, and I believe in Santa, and if you believe in him as well, then he must be real.”

The boy turned from the phone and yelled to others in the room, “I told you guys he was real!”

— Associated Press

With files from The Associated Press

Christmas marked around the world

As Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, people in Canada and around the world are celebrating Christmas in ways both spiritual and secular.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that Christmas is “a time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, and an occasion for Canadians of all background to come together in appreciation of our most fortunate country.”

Harper called Canada the best country in the world, an island of stability and “the bright hope for people the world over.” He asked people to be mindful of the less fortunate and grateful for the service of men and women in uniform.

Here’s a look at some of the ways the holiday is being marked around the globe.

Bethlehem

Thousands of Christians from the over the world packed Manger Square in Bethlehem Monday to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the ancient West Bank town where he was born.

For their Palestinian hosts, this holiday season was an especially joyous one, with the hardships of the Israeli occupation that so often clouded previous Christmas Eve celebrations eased by the United Nations’ recent recognition of an independent state of Palestine.

Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of the Christmas night mass in the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.Pope Benedict XVI leaves at the end of the Christmas night mass in the Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. (Max Rossi/Reuters)

Festivities led up to the Midnight Mass at St. Catherine’s Church, next to the fourth-century Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

“From this holy place, I invite politicians and men of good will to work with determination for peace and reconciliation that encompasses Palestine and Israel in the midst of all the suffering in the Middle East,” said the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal in his annual address. “Please continue to fight for a just cause to achieve peace and security for the people of the Holy Land.”

Hundreds of people greeted Twal in Manger Square, outside the Church of Nativity. The mood was festive under sunny skies, with children dressed in holiday finery or in Santa costumes, and marching bands playing in the streets.

Vatican City

In the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI lit a Christmas peace candle set on the windowsill of his private studio.

Pilgrims, tourists and Romans gathered below in St. Peter’s Square for the inauguration Monday evening of a Nativity scene and cheered when the flame was lit.

A Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus rings a bell in the West Bank town of Bethlehem ahead of Christmas.A Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus rings a bell in the West Bank town of Bethlehem ahead of Christmas. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)

Later, the pope led Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, prayed that Israelis and Palestinians live in peace and freedom, and asked the faithful to pray for strife-torn Syria as well as Lebanon and Iraq.

The ceremony began at 10 p.m. local time Monday with the blare of trumpets, meant to symbolize Christian joy over the news of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem. The basilica’s main bell tolled outside, and the sweet voices of the Vatican’s boys’ choir wafted across the packed venue.

Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican traditionally began at midnight, but the start time was moved up years ago so as to give the 85-year-old pontiff more time to rest before his Christmas Day speech. That address is to be delivered at midday Tuesday from the basilica’s central balcony.

Iraq

In Iraq, Christians gathered for services with tight security, including at Baghdad’s Our Lady of Salvation church, the scene of a brutal October 2010 attack that killed more than 50 worshippers and wounded scores more.

The exact number of Christians remaining in Iraq is not known, but it has fallen sharply from as many as 1.4 million before the U.S.-led invasion nearly a decade ago to about 400,000 to 600,000, according to community leaders cited by the U.S. State Department.

Spain

Winners of Spain’s cherished Christmas lottery — the world’s richest — celebrated Saturday in more than a dozen locations where lucky tickets were sold, a moment of uplift for a country enduring another brutal year of economic hardship.

Kulio Acebal, owner of one of the lottery shops that sold a winning number of the Spanish lottery, celebrates.Kulio Acebal, owner of one of the lottery shops that sold a winning number of the Spanish lottery, celebrates. (Eloy Alonso/Reuters)

The lottery sprinkled a treasure chest of $3.3 billion Cdn in prize money around the country.

Unlike lotteries that generate a few big winners, Spain’s version, now celebrating its 200th anniversary, has always shared the wealth more evenly instead of concentrating on vast jackpots, so thousands of tickets yield some kind of return.

Peterson Air Force Base

Volunteers at a Colorado Air Force base monitoring maps showing Santa Claus’ progress have answered more than 41,000 phone calls from children asking about the jolly old elf.

Phones have been ringing nonstop Monday at the base, headquarters of the North American Aerospace Command’s annual Santa-tracking operation.

Hundreds of helpers at Norad are taking calls and tracking Santa’s location on large projection screens. They’re posting updates for nearly 1.2 million Facebook fans and more than 120,000 Twitter followers.

With files from CBC News
© The Associated Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

First Nation blockade of CN track in Sarnia, Ont., into 4th day

The CN Rail blockade in Sarnia, Ont., by First Nations activists is into its fourth day with no end in sight.

Protesters began a march at 11:30 a.m. from Sarnia’s city hall to Highway 402 as part of the national Idle No More protests.

“It will be a short march. We’re not sure how many protesters to expect,” said Sarnia police Const. Heather Emmons.

Dozens of Aamjiwnaang First Nation members set up camp on and around the railroad track Friday.

“It’s very peaceful and there have been no problems, they were there all weekend,” said Emmons. “Our primary concern, of course, is the safety of the protesters and safety of the public.”

Sarnia police are monitoring the blockade from a distance, relying on CN for information.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley said police do not plan to shut down the blockade as long as no one gets hurt.

CN obtained a court injunction that leaves it to police to decide whether to end the blockade, Bradley said.

Ready to die

A Manitoba man who has been on a hunger strike for two weeks says he’s willing to die for his cause.

Raymond Robinson, 51, from Cross Lake First Nation, wants to discuss the federal government’s Bill 45, which makes changes to aboriginal land management, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“My only concern is to preserve and protect and defend the other thousands and thousands,” Robinson said Monday. “If I must go … just to make a stand and get something moving from Harper, then so be it. If it takes my life, then so be it.”

Robinson said he has heard from Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, who said they’re meeting to discuss ways to help him.

However, Robinson added, the hunger strike is beginning to take a toll: “I was kind of nauseous and felt chest pains and coldness and numbness and tingly sensations. I had a hard time breathing.”

Blockade spokesman Ron Plain says the protests are led by young Aamjiwnaang First Nation members, who met Sunday with representatives from CN, as well as Bradley and Sarnia’s police chief.

Dozens of demonstrators set up tables, tents and vehicles on and around the track Friday.

Idle No More protests are largely against the omnibus budget Bill C-45 that eliminates federally protected waterways and facilitates the sale of reserve lands without consultation.

Protesters say the blockade of the commercial-rail corridor will continue until Prime Minister Stephen Harper meets with Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence, who is on a hunger strike to bring attention to aboriginal issues.

Bradley says the city doesn’t support the blockade, but backs the call by local protesters to speak with Sarnia Conservative MP Patricia Davidson, who did not attend Sunday’s meeting.

Railway stoppage affecting customers

CN Rail spokesman Jim Feeny said the company is urging governments and police to step up negotiations to find a peaceful settlement, as the stoppage is beginning to affect CN customers.

Feeny said some plants that rely on CN’s service are facing shutdowns.

“If we are not able to move loaded rail cars out and replace them with empty rail cars to be loaded by the customers, they’re not going to be able to maintain their operations,” said Feeny.

Propane shipments are being prevented from reaching Canadian consumers, he added.

CN is in discussions with the First Nations, Sarnia’s mayor, police and government officials to hopefully “resolve this ongoing illegal action.”

An end to the dispute is “impossible to predict at this point.”

“CN can’t support illegal actions such as this blockade, but we do support First Nations’ requests that the government of Canada meet with First Nations’ leaders to discuss their concerns,” said Feeny.

© The Canadian Press, 2012
The Canadian Press

2 Rochester-area firefighters shot dead in ambush

The man who fatally shot two volunteer firefighters today near Rochester, N.Y., as they arrived to extinguish a blazing house and car has been identified as a 62-year-old man convicted in 1981 of killing his grandmother.

William Spengler served 17 years in prison for manslaughter, police said. He was released in 1998 and forbidden to possess firearms.

Spengler opened fire on first responders as they arrived, having taken up a sniper position on a berm near the burning house, police Chief Gerald Pickering said at a press conference.

“It does appear that it was a trap that was set for first responders.”

He said police in the area knew of Spengler’s background, but hadn’t had any specific interaction with him that might have provoked the shootings.

The chief said Spengler had mental health issues that were a concern.

Spengler had beaten his grandmother to death with a hammer, media reports said. The killing occurred on July 18, 1980, in the house next door to 191 Lake Road, where Spengler lived.

Police and firefighters arrived at the scene before dawn. After an initial exchange of gunfire with an on-duty police officer, Spengler apparently fled on foot. He ultimately died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, the chief said.

At the time, police and firefighters were trying to evacuate nearby houses, find the shooter, and stop the fire from spreading.

Emergency radio communications capture someone saying he “could see the muzzle flash coming at me” as Spengler carried out his ambush. The audio posted on the website RadioReference.com has someone reporting “firefighters are down” and saying “got to be rifle or shotgun — high powered … semi or fully auto.”

Police later recovered both the shooter’s body and the weapon used.

Lt. Michael Chiapperini, of both the Webster police and volunteer fire departments. Lt. Michael Chiapperini, of both the Webster police and volunteer fire departments. (Webster Police Department)

Pickering choked up as he named the two men who had been killed — one of whom was both a police officer and a volunteer firefighter — and the two firefighters who were in hospital.

The dead were identified as:

  • Lt. Michael Chiapperini, of Webster police and West Webster Fire Department.
  • Tomasz Kaczowka, a volunteer with the fire department.

The injured firefighters in intensive care were named as:

  • Joseph Hofsetter.
  • Theodore Scardino.

As well, an off-duty police officer from Greece, N.Y., just west of Rochester, was injured by shrapnel and taken to hospital. He had been driving past and stopped to help.

Pickering described Chiapperini, 43, as a “lifetime firefighter” with nearly 20 years with the department, and he called Kaczowka a “tremendous young man.”

Chiapperini had been named firefighter of the year in the Webster department a year ago. He was also the police department’s official spokesman.

The two wounded firefighters were in guarded condition in the intensive care unit at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, authorities said. Both were awake and alert and are expected to recover.

The gunfire initially kept firefighters from battling the blazes. Police said four homes were destroyed and four damaged.

Two of the firefighters arrived on a fire engine, and two in their own vehicles, Pickering said. After the gunman fired, one of the wounded men managed to flee, but the other three couldn’t because of flying bullets. A police armoured vehicle was used to recover two of the men, and eventually it evacuated 33 people from nearby homes, the police chief said.

Two Webster, N.Y., firefighters were shot to death at a house on Lake Road near Rochester early Monday. They were responding to a blaze on Irondequoit Bay, located between Rochester and Webster. Two Webster, N.Y., firefighters were shot to death at a house on Lake Road near Rochester early Monday. They were responding to a blaze on Irondequoit Bay, located between Rochester and Webster. (Google Maps)

The fire was left to burn and spread to adjacent houses while police moved in. By 9:45 a.m., after the shooting had stopped, firefighters had resumed combating the fire.

People leaving the area were searched by New York state police and other authorities before being taken to a Rochester transit bus that was commandeered for the evacuation.

Fire marshal Rob Boutillier said one wounded firefighter managed to get away from the scene to his car and was taken by ambulance to hospital, the Democrat and Chronicle reported at its website.

The area around the burning houses stretches along a narrow strip of land with Lake Ontario on one side to the north and Irondequoit Bay on the south side.

With files from The Associated Press

Viability of shale gas power source in doubt due to cost

The consultancy, Wood Mackenzie, also cast doubt on suggestions that the UK contained vast reservoirs of shale gas, with the analyst Niall Rowantree arguing that “it is not possible to accurately predict the ultimate recoverable volume of shale gas in the UK and therefore any estimates of the ultimate impact on UK gas supply are premature”.

Wood Mackenzie estimates that in order to develop UK shale reserves, potential operators would need a gas price of $9.68 per million British thermal units (mbtu) for the project to make economic sense. This is considerably more than this year’s average UK spot price of $8.69 per mbtu and the $8 per mbtu that Bloomberg forecasts it will hover around between 2015 and 2020.

Jamie Spiers, a researcher at Imperial College, said: “These figures suggest that the cost of extracting UK shale gas reserves will exceed the price. This is a big issue that hasn’t been addressed very much.”

Tony Bosworth, senior energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, added: “This is further evidence that shale gas production isn’t going to push our energy prices down.”

Yvonne Telford, another Wood Mackenzie analyst, said: “We think it is unlikely that shale gas from the UK alone will have a material impact on the UK’s gas price dynamics to 2025.”

Shale gas is produced using the controversial practice of fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, which releases the hydrocarbons by blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the rock at high speed.

The Government imposed a moratorium on the practice 18 months ago after the UK’s first fracking site was found to have caused two minor earthquakes in the Blackpool area. It was lifted this month after the Government ruled that fracking should be allowed to continue under strict supervision, and shale gas now lies at the heart of the Chancellor’s dash-for-gas energy strategy. Any commercial shale gas production is not expected until at least 2015.

Mr Osborne is hoping that Britain can replicate the shale gas revolution in the US, where fracking has knocked about three-quarters off the price in the past four years, taking it to about $3.30 per mbtu.

“A commercially viable UK shale gas development will only be possible if the subsurface is as good as the very best shale plays in North America,” said the Wood Mackenzie report, adding: “The commercially viability of the UK’s shale resources is yet to be proven.”

Shale gas production is expected to be more expensive and problematic in the UK than in the US because it is more densely populated, the shale has a higher clay content, and planning permission is likely to be difficult to secure – in part because in the US the household owns the mineral rights which in Britain belong to the Government.

The Chancellor and David Cameron have championed the prospects for shale gas, arguing that fracking could drive down prices and create thousands of jobs. Their enthusiasm stems in large part from an estimate by Cuadrilla Resources, the UK’s most established fracking operator, that its exploration licence for the shale hotspot around Blackpool contained 200 trillion cubic feet of gas – the equivalent to 70 years of UK consumption. However, experts point out that even if the 200 trillion figure is correct, no more than a small fraction of it could be commercially extracted. “Until many, many more wells are drilled, fracture stimulated and flow tested, it is not possible to accurately predict the ultimate recoverable volume of shale gas in the UK,” Mr Rowantree said.