Op-Ed: National Grid Is Playing With Fire


You wouldn’t want a doctor to examine your child by telephone. You wouldn’t expect a mechanic to determine if your boiler is safe or needs repairs by simply asking you questions over the phone.

But that’s exactly what a natural gas company is doing – conducting inspections of gas supply lines by telephone.

It’s a shocking and dangerous practice.  It prioritizes cost-cutting and the bottom line over safety.

National Grid delivers gas to 1.2 million residents in Brooklyn and Queens.  It installs and maintains supply lines and piping leading into homes, apartments, condominiums, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and other commercial and residential buildings, both large and small.

TWU Local 101 represents 1,600 men and women employed by National Grid as field representatives and technicians, many of whom live in the neighborhoods in which they work. Our members include job-site inspectors who ensure that private contractors also hired by National Grid safely install and connect gas lines beneath our streets. There is no margin for error.

But National Grid has tripled the amount of projects being done by outside contractors while failing to increase the number of inspectors. The inspectors simply can’t get to every site, and are told by managers to sign off on gas-line work they haven’t actually seen completed.

The inspectors are directed to make their safety checks over the telephone by asking contractors if they did the work properly. There is even a “not witnessed by inspector” box on the inspectors’ report form.

National Grid, which is applying for a rate increase, has outside contractors doing about 70 gas-line installation and replacement projects at any time. This is in addition to the work being done by in-house National Grid crews.

National Grid is playing with fire.

The City Council is considering legislation that would tighten gas-safety regulations but the bills focus on infrastructure and alarm systems inside residential and commercial buildings. The legislation was prompted in part by the deadly explosion on March 26, 2015 in the East Village.

The administration of Mayor de Blasio and the City Council should be applauded for these efforts – but they need to expand their focus to prevent further tragedies.

The safe delivery of gas begins long before that gas line reaches the front door.