When a Con Edison employee arrived to read the gas meter at one of the Penn South co-op’s 15 buildings, he detected a gas leak. He called a Con Edison supervisor, who came to the building and informed the building’s director of operations that the gas had to be shut off immediately. The director of operations called his boss, Brendan Keany, the property manager, who hurried to the scene.
“I told the Con Edison supervisor: ‘No, you will not shut down the gas! We have seniors in this building, and you will have to find a way to bottle this building!’” Keany recalls. “Even though the Con Edison supervisor was quite adamant that there had to be an immediate shutoff, I was insistent. I knew that bottling could save us.”
Bottling is a Con Edison service that can avert a buildingwide gas shutdown under certain conditions. “Con Edison brings big bottles of methane gas on a truck,” explains Len Williams, a master plumber at McCready & Rice Plumbing. “They then bring gas hoses into the building and make a temporary connection to feed the bottled gas into the building. However, this is possible only if the leak can be isolated and the repair can be made in a few hours.” To do that, the leak has to be between two shutoff valves in order for workers to bypass the leak while making repairs. Shutoff valves are usually found on the basement level.
The bottling service costs about $5,000, according to a Con Edison spokesman. The service averts a total shutdown, known as red-tagging, and the pressure-testing of lines that must follow – work that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and immeasurable inconvenience to residents. That’s the good news.
The bad news, Williams says, is that Con Edison is not always cooperative. “The odds are 50-50 that you’ll get bottled gas,” he says. “If we detect a gas leak, I can’t just log on to the Con Edison website and request bottling service. We have to call an emergency number, and everything depends on who answers the phone. Even supervisors might not know about the bottling service.”
Penn South’s Keany did not take no for an answer. He immediately got in touch with the local city councilman and state senator, and after a relatively short standoff, the Con Edison supervisor on the scene got a call from one of her supervisors that a bottling truck would indeed arrive at any moment. “We then put out an emergency notice to all residents in the building to not use gas,” says Keany. “The plumber was already on the property, and as soon as the bottled gas was hooked up, the repairs started and were done the same day.”
Says Williams: “The repair with bottled gas spares the building a lot of agony and money. The problem is getting bottling from Con Edison.”