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A total of 135 National Fuel Gas Co. workers in New York have accepted an early retirement offer from the Buffalo-based energy company, the firm said Thursday.

Slightly less than half of the 282 management and unionized workers who were eligible for the buyouts accepted the incentives, which were available through Wednesday, said Julie Coppola Cox, a National Fuel spokeswoman.

Company officials said the early retirement program in New York, which comes on the heels of a similar incentive program in its Pennsylvania service territory, is expected to pay for itself within a year.

Initially, though, the incentives will reduce the company's earnings through a one-time expense of about $5 million, or 8 cents per share.

The buyout is the 11th early retirement program that National Fuel has offered to some of its workers since 1984, when the company had 3,606 employees in New York and Pennsylvania. National Fuel's utility and pipeline businesses now employ 2,086 workers in the two-state area.

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