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A total of 67 National Fuel Gas Co. workers, including nine of the diversified natural gas company's employees in Western New York, have accepted early-retirement or severance packages, the Buffalo-based firm said.

The buyouts, which were accepted by nearly 3 percent of the company's total work force of 2,500, were offered to selected workers at the firm's pipeline and utility operations in Pennsylvania, as well as certain clerical workers in New York.

Most of the workers who accepted buyouts were based in Pennsylvania, where 58 of the 90 employees who were offered early-retirement incentives decided to take them, National Fuel said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In New York, nine of the 120 National Fuel clerical and telephone customer service workers who were offered early-retirement or severance packages decided to accept them, said Donna L. DeCarolis, a company spokeswoman. Most work in Erie County.

"This would be part of our continuing effort to control costs and position our work force to meet our needs in a changing environment," she said.

The offers were the seventh early-retirement incentives that National Fuel has offered to some of its workers since 1984, when the firm employed 3,700 people.

National Fuel expects to take a charge of about $1.2 million, or 3 cents per share, against its earnings during the quarter that ended last month to pay for the buyouts. "We would expect the savings would be exceeding that expense this fiscal year," Ms. DeCarolis said.

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