7 On Your Side Investigates: Are gas leaks under-reported, un-repaired in New York City?

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- There are new concerns about gas leaks in New York City and the possibility they are being under-reported and even un-repaired.

The New York City Council held hearings Wednesday on whether to require the city to look for gas leaks and require Con Ed to fix them.

Con Ed says they already do that and survey the entire city every month.

7 On Your Side Investigates wanted to see how thorough the utility's monitoring is, so last week, we hit the streets with a gas safety expert and quickly found missed leaks.

"What I see is leak after leak," said Bob Ackley, with Gas Safety USA. "If you hunt around, you'll find them."

He's been detecting gas leaks for 40 years, and on a recent morning, we spent a few hours in his van, which is equipped with a sophisticated methane gas analyzer. And it didn't take long to find a really big leak.

Using a combustible gas detector, Ackley got a high reading on Broadway just above 165th Street.

"This just went up to 90," he said, as in 90 percent gas leaking from underground. "I mean, this is a big leak. You shouldn't be getting this kind of gas anywhere."

He got high readings up and down the block, and it's not just the concentration, but whether the gas is widespread and migrating.

"Could be more leaks in between as well," he said. "High gas all where you are coming, all the way here."

After the 2014 gas explosion that killed eight people in East Harlem, Con Ed significantly increased gas safety patrols surveying 4,300 miles of gas mains every month.

"We've also developed an online gas map that shows current leaks throughout our system," a Con Ed spokesperson said.

The Con Ed map shows around 500 leaks in the city, about 200 of them in Manhattan. Ackley thinks that grossly underestimates the problem.

"I would say there are well over 1,000 leaks in Manhattan," he said.

Over the span of a few hours, we watched as he found four leaks -- only one of which was marked on the Con Ed map.

Con Ed said they found nothing at one spot where Ackley's gas indicator got a high reading, but as for the large gas leak Ackley found at Broadway near 165th Street, Con Ed sent a crew to check the location.

The utility says they found a low-level leak there and have now indicated on their map that it is not in need of repair. Ackley says that's rolling the dice on safety.

In response to our report, Con Ed says they "repair all leaks, even those not considered a public safety risk...within one month and make about 10,000 repairs each year."

The utility also says they are spending $500 million replacing 95 miles of old gas lines every year, but a few hours driving around in Ackley's gas analyzer seem to suggest that Con Ed is either missing gas leaks or under-reporting them.

"I think there are far more leaks out here than are on the books today," Ackley said.

The utility would not say whether it supported the City Council's measure calling for an independent check on gas leaks, but a spokesman did say the effort would cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars beyond what they are already paying through utility rates.

DO YOU NEED A STORY INVESTIGATED? Jim Hoffer, Danielle Leigh and the 7 On Your Side Investigates team at Eyewitness News want to hear from you! Call our confidential tip line 1-877-TIP-NEWS (847-6397) or fill out the form BELOW. You can also contact Jim and Danielle directly: Jim Hoffer: Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideJim@abc.com Facebook: facebook.com/jimhoffer.wabc Twitter: @NYCinvestigates Danielle Leigh Email your questions, issues, or story ideas to 7OnYourSideDanielle@abc.com Facebook: DanielleLeighJournalist Twttier: @DanielleNLeigh
Copyright © 2019 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.