How can you find out if there’s a natural gas pipeline nearby?

On Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a new natural gas pipeline to New York City . The 20-mile transmission line will carry up to 800 million cubic feet of gas each day from Linden, N.J., into Manhattan’s West Village. The pipeline faced stiff opposition from environmental and community groups concerned that it would pass through densely populated areas in Staten Island and Jersey City before arriving in Manhattan. Since 2002, New York State has seen seven fatalities and 27 injuries associated with natural gas pipelines.

In 2010 a natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California exploded killing 10 people. That tragedy and other accidents  motivated Congressman Jerry Nadler to issue a statement earlier today saying he was concerned that the pipeline would cut through several densely populated neighborhoods in southern Manhattan. “These dangers are deadly serious and require particular attention when a pipeline is planned through extremely dense residential areas like the West Village and Meatpacking District,” Nadler wrote in an emailed statement.

That got us at the New York World asking: How can New York City residents find out if there is a natural gas pipeline near them? And what can local governments do to ensure that the pipelines are safe?

What we found

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, government agencies, local utilities and regional natural gas associations have withheld maps of natural gas pipelines from the public. Unless you work for a government agency or a private utility that uses this data, chances are you can’t access it.

For those of us without security clearance the best resource available is the federal government’s National Pipeline Mapping System website, which maps long-distance gas lines in every county in the country. Branching out from these lines are smaller pipes called distribution lines that can be found under most city streets. 

But fear not – if a new gas pipeline is coming your way, you and your neighbors will get plenty of notice, as residents in southeast Brooklyn recently did for a planned new transmission line near Jamaica Bay. Such disclosure is required by the New York State Public Service Commission. After construction however, neither the city nor the state informs homeowners on a regular basis about whether they live near a transmission line. Property owners may also learn about a line’s existence when undertaking excavation work: Under state law, contractors must inform the state about an intent to do heavy construction so utility companies can flag any gas lines underneath.

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