Recent gas explosions in New York City have drawn attention to the condition of gas lines in the city. New York in general and Manhattan in particular has some of the oldest infrastructure of any large city in the United States, and gas pipes are no exception. The iron gas pipes are rusty and leaky. The result: Manhattan emits three to five times more natural gas than cities with better, newer pipes, according to a recent survey.
The survey compared newer and smaller cities, like Cincinnati, Ohio, and Durham, North Carolina, with New York. Both of the smaller cities have replaced most main gas pipes with plastic or sealed steel pipes. Previous studies focused on Boston and Washington, D.C., and found gas leak rates similar to those in New York. The density of older cities makes fixing these gas leaks a daunting prospect.
Gas companies have little incentive to fix leaks. Rather, they just add the cost of leaked gas to customer bills. As result, leaking gas mains do not cut into gas company revenue. Lost gas company revenue or increased cost to consumers pales in comparison to the safety issues raised by gas leaks.
In addition to old infrastructure, New York City gas mains are affected by constant truck traffic, subway vibrations and severe weather changes, all of which reduce the longevity and safety of the city’s underground utilities.
New York City has 4,000 miles of natural gas mains that connect to 370,000 service lines. Con Ed, the city’s gas utility, plans to replace the 60 percent of gas pipes that are made of cast iron or bare steel over the next 20 years.
Will this be soon enough to avert disasters like the gas explosion in Harlem this year?