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Speeches

Board Meeting: Natural-Gas Explosion in the East Harlem section of New York - Closing Statement
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Conference Center
6/9/2015

​In closing, I would like to recognize the hard work of the NTSB staff in producing this report, and thank my fellow Board Members for their very helpful participation in the process.

This accident claimed eight lives, injured at least 50 other people, caused 100 families to be evacuated, and  caused major disruptions to daily life for many more by fouling a nearby commuter railroad track.

Yet its antecedents had been building for years. In particular, the inadequate preparation of the service tee resulted in incomplete fusion welding of the service tee to the gas main in 2011, which caused the joint to be defective.

At least five years prior to that there was a breach in a nearby sewer main, discovered in 2006, which went unrepaired. This neglect resulted in the sagging of the gas main in the vicinity of the service tee.

These factors aligned to create the accident, but there were others. The New York State Department of Public Service audit program for pipeline operators does not address all aspects of the state regulations, making it less likely that the defective joint would be detected.

People in the area of the accident failed to report the gas leak on the night of March 11, calling into question the adequacy of Con Edison’s public awareness efforts.

And once the leak was reported on the morning of March 12, Con Edison lost one more opportunity to avoid or mitigate the accident by neglecting to notify the New York City Fire Department. Con Edison also had not installed appropriately located isolation valves, which would have minimized danger to first responders and minimized the delay in recovery operations.

We have made a recommendation to the City of New York today, which, if acted upon, will result in better reporting of sewer line breaches and better coordination among city agencies to identify and address soil disruption and voids. Our recommendation to the New York State Public Service Commission, if acted upon, will ensure that its 5-year audit plan includes all elements of the regulations.

And our four recommendations to Con Edison, if acted upon, will result in better adherence to standard practices for heat fusion joining of polyethylene pipe; prompt notification to the New York City Fire Department in the event of a gas emergency; and more extensive and appropriate installation of gas main isolation valves.

These actions will help improve gas pipeline safety, and as the years-long buildup to this accident illustrates, they are long overdue. Public safety depends on these safety improvements, and the public needs to insist on them.

But even if all of these recommendations are implemented, they will not stop every gas leak, either in New York City or elsewhere.

That’s why the public also plays a critical role here - and if there is one sentence that gets widely reported from this meeting, I hope this is it:

Anybody who smells a gas leak should first evacuate and move away from the building, and then report the leak, either to 911 or to the gas company.

The lives you save might be your own, your family’s, or your neighbors’.

We stand adjourned.
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