Nationally, the Department of Transportation, which oversees pipelines, estimates that more than 30,000 miles of decades-old cast iron pipe are still being used to deliver gas. A federally monitored replacement program, at a cost in the billions of dollars, is underway but moving slowly, even as occasional tragedies underscore the urgency of the problem.
In 2011, for example, there were two fatal explosions in Pennsylvania linked to old cast-iron mains – one installed in 1928, the other in 1942.
Con Edison, like its counterparts across the country, has a program to replace cast iron pipelines with plastic pipes, costing about $110 million a year. It is now accelerating the program from 50 miles of pipe a year to 65 miles annually, but even at that rate completion could be two nearly decades away.
According to federal data, Con Edison had 1,418 miles of old pipeline to replace in 2004, and as of 2012 still had 1,286 miles left to go.
A Con Ed spokesman, Bob McGee, said the age of the cast iron pipes isn’t a safety hazard in and of itself. But safety experts say the iron pipes are susceptible to cracks caused by earth movement related to seasonal frost heaves, nearby construction work, or changes in ground water levels.
“If I lived near an 1887 small-diameter cast iron main, I’m living next to a ticking time bomb,” said Bob Ackley of Southborough, Mass, a natural gas safety consultant who operates Gas Safety USA. He said utilities should speed up their replacement timetables.
According to the Department of Transportation, New York City still uses about 3,000 miles of decades-old cast-iron gas pipe, Boston about 2,000 miles and Philadelphia about 1,500 miles.
In addition to cost, one deterrent to massive pipe replacement is disruption to traffic on the streets overhead.
Adam Forman of the Center for an Urban Future acknowledged this was a challenge in a crowded city such as New York, but said new technologies were being developed to reduce the need for cutting streets open.
Overall, said Forman’s report, it’s in New York’s self-interest to invest in upgrades of all types.
“Too much of the city’s essential infrastructure remains stuck in the 20th Century – a problem for a city positioning itself to compete with other global cities in today’s 21st Century economy,” he wrote.<< previous 1 2 3 4
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