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Memo of Analysis for Gas Safety Legislation Package
April 12, 2016
BILL: Gas Safety Bill Package
SUBJECT: A series of legislation introduced to amend and improve the safety protocols relating to natural gas in New York City buildings
DATE: April 12, 2016
SPONSORS: Mark Levine, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rafael Espinal, Jr., Vanessa Gibson, Rosie Mendez, Donovan Richards, James Vacca, Jumaane Williams
The Real Estate Board of New York (“REBNY”), represents over 17,000 owners, developers, managers and brokers of real property in New York City and supports well-conceived efforts to promote public safety. The recent introduction of ten bills by the City Council seeks to address and prevent further gas-related explosions. Below, we highlight issues pertaining to various aspects of the bill package that could impact management of both commercial and resident properties.
Intro No. 1088 requires building owners with gas piping systems to have those systems inspected by licensed master plumbers at least once every four years. This would carry the current Public Service Commission requirement - to have piping inspected from the point of entry into a building through the outlet of a meter - forward to all accessible building gas piping outlets in order to enhance public safety. There is currently no required maintenance on these systems once they are installed, differentiating them from other systems such as boilers, elevators, water tanks, and water recycling systems.
Uncertainty in inspection guidelines
The bill calls for visual inspections of “atmospheric corrosion” and “piping deterioration” but gives no guidance as to what entails these characteristics. Although the intent may be to determine these characteristics through rule-making, there is no industry standard as to what constitutes these conditions. Therefore, specific guidance regarding the requirements for recognizing excessive atmospheric corrosion leakage and/or piping deterioration should be established before inspections are mandated. Further, if licensed master plumbers will be the inspecting entity responsible for this work, we must be sure they have received the proper training and are qualified to conduct these inspections in accordance with NYSDPS requirements. For example, black iron piping, commonly used for gas systems, is often subject to some corrosion after more than a few years of continued use, like most metals. However, such corrosion does not necessarily affect the pipe’s ability to perform efficiently. Failure to specify scenarios such as this could result in unnecessary violations and gas shut-offs.
The bill requires that the building owner correct all defects that the inspection report identified. However, the defects identified might not necessarily pose any short- or long-term risks as noted in the example above. The bill is also silent regarding how building code compliance will be determined. Plumbing systems throughout the city were installed during different variations of the building code over the decades. A plumbing system in a pre-war building that is code compliant might look entirely different from a system that was built more recently under current code. How will the inspector be able to determine which code is applicable?
The industry’s overwhelming concern is that gas service will be unnecessarily turned off as a result of these inspections. With the level of subjectivity and lack of industry standards, DOB should first complete their specific notification and corrective action requirements based on the existing NYSDPS Code, Building Code, and National Fuel Gas Code guidance and conditions that warrant gas interruption for safety. In many cases, there are currently differing standards for conducting testing once the gas is shut off from both the regulatory agencies and utilities, which results in the delay of gas being turned back on. In some instances, it can take several months.
As inspection frequency of visibly accessible piping is currently being studied under the direction of the NYSDPS, the results of this study should be made known prior to these proposed inspections being made mandatory. In many buildings, the most important components of these gas systems are located inside of the infrastructure of the buildings themselves, such as behind walls and in between floors. These systems would not be covered under the proposed visual inspections, regardless of how often they are conducted.
We would also point to Intro No. 1100 as another bill which may require further consideration. This bill requires owners of class A or B multiple dwellings to provide, install, and periodically replace one or more smoke, carbon monoxide, and natural gas alarms in common areas and dwelling units. While the goal of this bill inarguably has merit, there are technical concerns that the UL standard applied for natural gas alarms would not be appropriate for the spaces where they would be used per this legislation. Because of this, there are risks that these detectors would be prone to false alarms - too many of which might cause residents to turn the detector off completely - or worse, not work at all.
Intro No. 1100 may be more effective if a five-year “phase-in” period was implemented based on availability and cost impact to building owners beginning in 2018, while also encouraging engagement across all impacted stake holders in order to maximize public safety value. By the end of this period, the technology behind methane detection technology would be far closer to an optimal standard where it would be as effective as possible in residential dwellings. We understand that some utility providers are currently participating in a pilot study of commercially available detectors to determine the proper minimum concentration detection thresholds and practical applications, which, when completed in the next 12-18 months, would greatly enhance the performance of the technology and reduce unintended public safety consequences.
Finally, Intro 738 would create a journeyman plumber gas qualification system, and bar journeyman plumbers from fabricating, assembling, installing, repairing, servicing, testing, or maintaining a fuel gas piping system without valid gas qualification. This work can currently be performed either by or under the direct supervision of licensed master plumbers. Should this bill be enacted, this further level of licensing could discriminate against workers already employed in the field but are not journeymen. The testing regime considered by this bill could bar otherwise-qualified workers from continued employment. Furthermore, should the rest of these gas-related pieces of legislation be passed, there will be significantly more work to be performed, and Intro 738 would limit the number of plumbers available to perform it.