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Rising prices and a greater concern for energy supplies could provide a silver lining for National Fuel Gas Co., the company's chief executive said Thursday.

Bernard J. Kennedy, National Fuel's chairman and chief executive officer, told shareholders at the Buffalo-based energy company's annual meeting in Houston that the current energy crunch underscores the need for the Independence Pipeline project to bring natural gas to the East Coast and the value of the company's natural gas storage fields in Western New York and Pennsylvania.

The Independence pipeline, which is planned by National Fuel, Williams Co. and El Paso Energy, would be a major source for bringing natural gas originally produced in Western Canada from Chicago to East Coast markets. National Fuel and its partners now are trying to line up commitments from gas marketers to use the pipeline to transport their natural gas.

The electricity crunch in California shows that the nation needs more pipelines, like the Independence project, to move natural gas where it is needed and ensure that adequate supplies are available, he said.

Kennedy also said the company's storage fields in Western New York and Pennsylvania give National Fuel an advantage because it can use the facilities to quickly build up an inventory of gas that can be pulled out rapidly and delivered to the market.

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