by Mikayla Murphy, Divya Goel, Tina Quach, Brandon Levy
The data say that natural gas leaks are a problem throughout Massachusetts, and it can take Eversource (formerly called NStar), the utility company for 51 of the state’s towns, as long as several months to fix them from the day they’re reported. We want to tell this story because gas leaks are a big problem with major environmental, economic, and public health consequences, and we want to motivate Massachusetts residents to take action to improve their lives and local community and develop a habit of practicing civil engagement.
Our audience is environmentally conscious adults living in Massachusetts towns where the natural gas is supplied by Eversource. Our goal is to inform these residents about gas leaks in and around their hometowns so that they can judge whether the leaks are being addressed effectively and, if not, demand that Eversource address gas leaks with greater urgency. By addressing leaks as soon as possible, we can reduce their many negative impacts.
We drew our data from NStar gas leak data, which lists gas leaks, the date of report, the date of repair, the gas leak location, and the grade, a rating of the potential danger*. We’ve presented this data through an interactive website module (see mockup here) meant to be shared through climate change and gas leak response advocacy groups in the Massachusetts Area (such as Mothers Out Front). The module
- prompts the audience for the town they live in
- presents information regarding why they should care about gas leaks
- raises questions about how well gas leaks in their hometown are managed by Eversource (How many gas leaks were reported in my town compared to other towns? How long did it take before the gas leaks were repaired? How does my town compare to the towns near me and to the state as a whole?)
- answers these questions through informative data visualizations
- asks audience to voice their concerns to local government and energy providers through social media and direct email and/or phone communication
We made 3 visualizations. The first visualizes the total number of gas leaks that each town reported in a choropleth map centered on the user’s specific town and allows him or her to compare the number of gas leaks to that of the surrounding towns (normalized by population). The second is a choropleth map to visualize the average time from report to repair for each town, where darker colors correspond to longer times to repair. We use the color red to convey the urgency and alarm that should be associated with the need to respond to gas leaks. Once again, the audience can easily compare its town to other towns and realize that there is a need to push for faster responses to gas leaks. We emphasize this through our third visualization: a number line plotting where the town lies in relation to other towns and the state as a whole in a more explicitly quantitative way. Our module is effective overall because it conveys information in a visual manner that is easily understood and makes comparison easy. It also uses the target audience’s environmentally conscious attitudes and town pride to motivate them to take action.
* Grade 1 is in a contained space and so considered potentially explosive. Grade 2 is near a foundation and so must be watched. Grade 3 is everything else no matter how big the amount of gas leaking from the pipe, so low-priority Grade 3 leaks could potentially emit large amounts of gas before they’re fixed.