See updates to this story here.
A group of utility workers contracted by Con Edison and National Grid "likely" cheated on their certification exams in order to qualify for their jobs, calling into question the quality of work on some gas mains and pipes across New York, state investigators say.
The I-Team has learned that Network Infrastructure, Inc. pipe installation workers had access to and "likely used" answer sheets for a written portion of operator qualification tests administered by the Northeast Gas Association. The tests measure how much candidates know about installing natural gas mains and pipes.
Con Edison and National Grid were ordered to immediately stop using Network Infrastructure workers on their projects. The companies say they're cooperating with the state's investigation and that they'll proceed on projects with other contractors and company resources.
"We hold utilities and their subcontractors strictly accountable when they do not comply with our rigorous gas safety rules," said James Denn, a spokesman for the Department of Public Service, which conducted the investigation.
Patrick Clarke, the president of the Long Island-based Network Infrastructure, Inc. denies the company gave employees answers to the exams. He told the I-Team from the company's Hempstead office that he's been in business for 16 years and that he's cooperating with the state investigation.
"We are devastated," he said. "We think there was a rush to judgment."
Con Edison and National Grid have started their own internal quality assurance investigation by testing sections of Network Infrastructure-installed pipe, DPS officials say. It's not yet clear how many miles of installed pipe will need to be reexamined, but officials say it represents only a small percentage of the overall new gas pipe installed.
The I-Team has learned that NI was contracted to replace more than 6 miles of new gas mains in Queens for one National Grid project that cost $1.3 billion.
The current written tests administered by the Northeast Gas Association are no longer being used to qualify pipe workers, the DPS said.
Con Edison and National Grid are also working with the NGA to identify integrity problems and solutions to prevent another breach.
"It's outrageous that they were given answers to the questions, a complete bypass of a safety check that's designed to protect the people," said Mark McDonald, a nationally recognized expert on natural gas safety.
"It's critically important that these people are properly trained to prevent catastrophic consequences," he said.