More than seven months after NBC 4 New York's I-Team revealed Consolidated Edison declined to detail the locations of known, active gas leaks in the tri-state area despite urging residents to report possible hazards, the utility has released a map highlighting the potential danger zones.
The map Con Edison published Wednesday (just click OK on the page to see the map) shows the locations of more than 800 active leaks plaguing its underground network of gas pipes. The release of the map, which lets users search active gas leak locations by zip code in Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx and Westchester County, marks a reversal of policy for the city's largest provider of natural gas, which previously had kept the information shielded from public view.
"It's a live map and it's the first one anyone has ever done, and it will be updated every 24 hours so if you report a leak today and we go and find that it is a gas leak, you'll see it on the map tomorrow," Michael Clendenin, a Con Edison spokesman, told the I-Team Wednesday.
And when the leak is fixed, the dot will disappear, Clendenin said.
In April, the I-Team, responding to the gas explosion in East Harlem that killed eight people a month earlier, first reported Con Edison's unwillingness to detail the leak locations and exposed a systemic backlog problem. Since fixing every known leak, which requires pipes be ripped up and replaced, is expensive, utilities were being allowed to backlog a certain number of leaks.
Last year, Con Edison reported a backlog of more than 800 non-hazardous leaks to the New York Public Service Commission. Until now, those leak locations were known only to the utility.
"After East Harlem and knowing that not everyone calls in gas leaks -- not everyone calls when they smell gas -- we wanted proactively to go out there just on our own significantly enhance the amount of patrolling that we do," Clendenin said.
At the time of the March 12 explosion, both Con Edison and the FDNY said no one called to report a smell of gas until just minutes before the accident.
On the map published Wednesday, green dots represent "grade 3" leaks, which are considered the least problematic and may be allowed to remain indefinitely. Blue dots represent “grade 1” or “grade 2” leaks, which require more urgent repair or remediation. Often more severe leaks are vented, so the leaking methane is diverted away from nearby buildings. None of the leaks on the map are considered hazardous.
Fixing all the hundreds of active leaks would cost Con Edison billions of dollars and likely require huge rate increases for customers.
In addition to publishing the map, Con Edison said it had increased the number of gas survey vehicles actively searching for leaks.
Other New York-area utilities also refused to share leak locations with the public when the I-Team asked them during the course of its original reporting for this story, which first appeared on air and online April 28. Two months after the initial report, National Grid endorsed an advocacy group-created map of Staten Island with hundreds of colored dots representing specific gas leaks along its underground system of gas mains and distribution pipes.
Also in response to the I-Team's initial report, New York Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Scarsdale who chairs the Assembly Energy Committee, co-sponsored a bill that would require utilities to share locations of gas leaks with the public and submit information on repairs. That bill has not yet been taken up for a vote.