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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

that goal.


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

worker re-qualification.

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

outlets today.

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.