“Become a Gas Leak Detective!” Evaluating a multigenerational citizen science program for connecting distribution pipelines to energy justice

Buried beneath homes and businesses, pipelines convey an invisible threat: flammable natural gas. Methane gas leaks in distribution pipelines contribute to climate change, damage urban tree canopies, endanger public safety, and burden ratepayers financially. Despite this, residents often lack the ability to interpret the signs of an outdoor urban gas leak and understand its relationship to larger-scale infrastructural decisions. In order to counter information asymmetries between urban residents and utility companies, we present a family-friendly, citizen science curriculum developed by an academic research team and a local climate justice organization which guides users to observe vegetation, read street markings, use their senses, and access existing public databases for finding urban gas leaks in their neighborhoods. Using a scholar-activist, ethnographic walking methodology, we demonstrate how the citizen science program intervenes in the regimes of imperceptibility around urban gas leaks, strengthens Mothers Out Front Worcester’s capacity to advocate for energy justice, and helps build a politics of deconfinement in service of an equitable transition off natural gas. This research was supported by JPB funds.