Testimony by Marc Huestis, Senior Vice President, Gas Operations, Con Edison of New York, NYS Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, Committee on Energy, and Subcommittee on Infrastructure
Good afternoon. I am Marc Huestis, senior vice president of Gas Operations for Con Edison. Thank you Chairman Brennan, Chairman Rodriguez and other Assembly members for the opportunity to update you on the steps we have taken to ensure the safe and reliable operation of our natural gas system.
Con Edison provides natural gas to 1.1 million customers in Manhattan, the Bronx, parts
of Queens and Westchester County. We maintain 4,400 miles of gas mains and
370,000 service lines that run from the street to individual buildings.
Protecting the well-being of the public and our workers has always been Con Edison’s
top priority. Our daily operations and long-term planning processes are focused on
improving gas safety through the effective prevention, detection and response to gas
Since the East Harlem tragedy, we have re-doubled those efforts, putting additional
measures in place to enhance public safety. Those measures include monthly leak
surveys of our gas distribution system, continued acceleration of main replacement,
additional layers of quality control inspections, enhanced leak response protocols
established with the FDNY and Westchester County fire departments and an aggressive
gas safety public awareness campaign.
Integral to our efforts to keep everyone safe, and one I cannot emphasize enough, is
calling 911 or your local utility if you suspect that you smell gas. No one should assume
that someone else will call. For everyone’s protection, leave the area and make that
call. In a few minutes, I’ll speak more about our “Smell Gas, Act Fast,” campaign and
our support for the installation of natural gas alarms in homes and multi-unit residential
As mentioned, we focus on prevention, detection and response to keep our system, and
the public we serve, safe. Let’s start with our efforts to prevent leaks.
Nearly 95 percent of the leaks on our system occur on small-diameter cast-iron and
unprotected steel pipe. We set a goal of replacing an average of 65 miles of cast-iron
and unprotected steel main a year from 2014 to 2016 and we are on target to exceed
We have developed plans to further accelerate our replacement of cast-iron and
unprotected steel pipe to 100 miles a year. Over the next five years, we plan to invest
approximately $1.3 billion on gas main replacement across our entire service area. This
will reduce the time required to replace or rehabilitate all our cast-iron and unprotected
steel from more than 34 years to about 20 years.
We have been working with various NYC agencies to include gas system upgrades as
part of city infrastructure projects and coordinating response to identified street
conditions that could represent challenges to our gas infrastructure.
Of course, our ability to keep our gas delivery safe depends on the training and
expertise of our workers. We have worked closely with the Gas Technical Institute and
the Northeast Gas Association to strengthen our procedures and correct any lapses in
To make sure our workforce remains strong, we are working with community colleges
and local unions to provide technical training to prepare qualified graduates for work in
our industry. We plan on hiring hundreds of gas mechanics and additional qualified
contractors over the next five years to help keep our maintenance and safety programs
Finally, when it comes to damage prevention, I would be remiss if I did not mention the
importance of our State One Call Centers, New York 811 and Dig Safely New York’s
education programs on excavation awareness that remind people to call 811 before
they dig. Prevention of 3rd party damage has been, and continues to be, a key
component of our gas safety programs.
After prevention, detection is the next line of defense for gas safety. We now conduct a
mobile leak survey of our entire distribution system 13 times a year. In addition, we are
testing new, more sensitive leak detection technology that could enable us to find and
repair leaks sooner.
We are committed to leveraging technology to improve our gas safety programs. We
strongly believe that emerging residential methane detection technology holds the
potential to significantly improve public safety. The technology has now matured to the
point that it is ready for field testing.
We are planning to start pilot programs next year to evaluate detector performance in
real world household settings in support of future widespread deployment and adoption
of natural gas alarms by consumers.
Following successful field testing, we would advocate for legislative efforts to require
them in homes and multi-unit residential buildings, similar to the way carbon monoxide
and smoke detectors are required now.
We believe natural gas detectors could help avoid tragedies and save lives by
prompting action in response to an alarm versus someone relying on their nose and
perhaps wondering if it’s gas they smell. But we emphasize that with or without an
alarm, anyone who suspects they smell gas should act immediately.
This is one example of a natural gas alarm that can be purchased in many hardware
The final layer of defense when it comes to gas safety is effective response to
suspected leaks. We want people to call when they suspect a gas leak in the same way
that they instinctively call 911 when they see an accident or a crime.
Last year, we began a public awareness campaign called “Smell Gas, Act Fast” to place
even more emphasis on the urgency of reporting suspected leaks. We have placed ads
in subways, on the radio, online, in print and on social media, including multi-lingual
videos, to get the word out that anyone who suspects a gas leak should immediately
leave the area and call 911 or their gas utility.
A terrible tragedy that occurred in New York’s East Village neighborhood this past
March further reinforced the importance of engaging the public in gas safety. Since
then, we have worked even more closely with the city to identify buildings with improper
or unsafe piping. Anytime we find unsafe piping, we immediately turn off the gas for
everyone’s protection. The gas remains off until the building owner makes repairs, gets
a city certification and passes a Con Edison inspection and test.
To further enhance response to leak calls, Con Edison has worked with the NYC and
Westchester County fire departments to establish a new response protocol. Since last
December when the new protocol was established, when members of the public call
911 to report a gas odor, Con Edison crews respond in parallel with the Fire
We are on track to respond to approximately 20,000 calls in concert with the NYC Fire
Department in 2015, compared to about 2,500 in the year before this change. We have
also included this protocol in our training of Westchester County fire departments. We
expect to respond to approximately 1,500 calls in concert with Westchester fire
departments this year, compared with 600 last year.
Con Edison values its partnership with municipal responders and continues to foster
close participation and joint response to reported gas leak emergencies.
As you know, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded its investigation into
the East Harlem explosion this year and made several recommendations for us, the City
of New York and state regulators. While we do not agree with all of the board’s
conclusions about the source of the leak that led to the explosion, we fully concur with
the recommendations for improving gas system safety.
We are moving forward with all four recommendations the board made for Con Edison.
Three involve specification and process changes associated with plastic fusion and
enhanced guidance for notifying the fire department in an emergency. Those
improvements are underway.
The fourth recommendation involves increasing the number of isolation valves on our
low-pressure distribution system, and we will work with regulators to implement that
recommendation as well.
Among other changes, we have improved our quality assurance and quality control
processes. In January we established a Compliance & Quality Assessment Department
that reports directly to me. In June, with the support of union leadership, we
implemented independent peer inspections of all plastic fusions.
In addition, we have implemented multiple layers of supervisory and independent quality
control inspection of plastic fusions to further drive quality and process improvements.
The state Public Service Commission also recently concluded its investigation. We will
respond to the issues raised by the PSC as part of the commission’s proceeding.
Con Edison is privileged to provide energy to this great city and metropolitan area. That
privilege comes with a great responsibility to deliver that energy safely. Our dedicated
employees live in the communities we serve and embrace that responsibility every day.
Thank you and I’d be glad to answer any questions.