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In Wake of Gas Explosion, Con Ed Spending $1B to Replace Leak-Prone Pipes

By Gustavo Solis | December 4, 2015 7:01pm | Updated on December 6, 2015 7:02pm
 The utility company will remove more than 65 miles of leak-prone pipes by the end of 2016, officials said.
The utility company will remove more than 65 miles of leak-prone pipes by the end of 2016, officials said.
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MANHATTAN — Utility companies statewide vowed to spend billions to replace about 2,000 miles leak-prone gas pipes in 20 years, officials said Friday at a public hearing aimed at evaluating safety measures taken to prevent future building explosions.

The timeline marks a substantial increase from a previous hearing in May 2014 when the estimated time was 45 years.

“There’s definitely progress we just need to keep up the effort,” said state Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez, who represents East Harlem where a building explosion killed eight people in 2014.

“Twenty years definitely makes me feel better than 40 or 36.”

In the city, Con Edison is spending more than $1 billion to replace their leak-prone pipes. The utility company is on pace to replace more than 65 miles of pipes by the end of 2016 and plans replace 100 miles a year after that, said Marc Huestis, Senior VP of Gas Operations for Con Ed.

Despite the investment, Con Edison maintains that they are not the sole party responsible for the fatal leak.

“While we do not agree with all of the [federal reports'] conclusions about the source of the leak that led to the explosion, we do fully concur with the recommendations for improving gas system safety moving forward,” Huestis said.

Huestis and several other representatives from gas companies, as well as officials from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Emergency Management and the FDNY spoke at a public hearing Friday morning.   

The goal of the meeting — which comes after both state and federal agencies released reports blaming the explosion on a faulty Con Edison pipe joint that cracked because of a broken sewer line that the city ignored — was to find out what both the city and utility companies have done to prevent future explosions.

City officials told the state Legislature that they are inspecting more pipes and have hired additional people to inspect them. The city has also streamlined the process of maintaining and repairing its aging infrastructure by coordinating efforts with utility companies.

There has also been more emphasis on gas leak awareness.

Both the city and Con Edison have held awareness campaigns letting people know that if they smell gas they should call 911. Since 911 began responding to gas calls last year, the number of visits has increased, according to the FDNY.

“It started somewhere on or about March of 2014, the amount of calls has spiked,” said Deputy Chief Anthony Devita, who attributed the increase to a combination of, “the advertising, the notoriety of these incidents, people fearing or their safety.”

The FDNY is better equipped to respond to gas calls compared to utility companies, he added. The FDNY’s average response time is less than eight minutes compared to 20 to 25 minutes for utility companies, Devita said.

Apart from committing to replacing thousands of miles of leak-prone pipes in the state in 20 years, the utility companies also said it is working on developing a natural gas detector similar to smoke or carbon monoxide detectors that are required in residential buildings.

Con Edison plans to have a pilot program ready next year.

“We think this will be a game changer,” Huestis said.

Rodriguez has already begun thinking of legislative actions to roll out the gas detectors as soon as they are commercially viable, he said.

Overall, he said he believes the hearing showed that both the city and utility companies are working to make the gas lines safer in the state. The hearings help remind them that they are being watched, he said.

“The benefit of what we are doing is that we are keeping the pressure on them to take action,” he said.