Let's talk about data

Consultation has concluded

The NEB has sought to challenge the way it communicates by not only providing data, but also the means for people to explore it and come to their own conclusions. The NEB’s data visualization initiative is an innovative step towards increased transparency and accessibility of energy and pipeline information in Canada.

The NEB has sought to challenge the way it communicates by not only providing data, but also the means for people to explore it and come to their own conclusions. The NEB’s data visualization initiative is an innovative step towards increased transparency and accessibility of energy and pipeline information in Canada.

Consultation has concluded
  • Preventing pipeline incidents caused by excavation activities

    Any person who does excavation work should click or call before digging

    Excavation (or digging) work can cause pipeline incidents that can lead to tragic consequences.

    Indeed, this type of incident is particularly dangerous because of the safety risks involved given the location of excavation — usually near cities or inhabited rural areas — and the proximity of the workers to the pipeline when the events occur.

    In Canada, seven people died in an explosion in Toronto, Ontario, in April 2003 after construction workers hit a gas line that was not properly identified. The line was regulated by the province.

    The company was fined for violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Technical Standards and Safety Act.

    Federally, the Pipeline Crossing Regulations, which have become the Damage Prevention Regulations, came about as a result of a fatal incident in the municipality of Durham, Ontario, in October 1985.

    The event occurred when a worker conducting construction work on a farm accidently hit a gas line with a plow.

    The NEB’s incident investigation report explains the event: “The escaping gas ignited resulting in an explosion and a fire which burned for approximately four hours. The operator of the plow died in the explosion and ensuing fire; three of his employees were burned but recovered, and one other person, a [company] employee, was slightly injured.”

    The incident brought to light a range of issues, which led the NEB to strengthen its regulatory oversight of damage prevention activities.

    NEB role in damage prevention

    Preventing damage to pipelines is a shared responsibility.

    Pipeline companies are required to make sure people know how to safely conduct activities like ground disturbance and construction near pipelines.

    People planning activities that involve digging like planting a tree, a home improvement job or installing a fence, must call or click before they dig, to safely identify buried utility lines — including pipelines, but also electricity lines and fiber optic cables.

    As a federal regulator of international and interprovincial pipelines, the National Energy Board promotes safe work practices around pipelines. We do this through regulation and by monitoring and enforcing compliance with those regulations.

    We raise public awareness about safety by providing information and encouraging co-operation, safety education, and compliance with requirements. And we are the federal regulatory champion for the Canadian Common Ground Alliance.

    “As part of our activities we conduct outreach with different groups throughout the year,” shares Patrick Curti, NEB inspector.

    “Because pipelines are buried, they can be at risk for accidental damage from nearby ground disturbance or construction activity. The good news, is that this type of damage can be prevented” adds Patrick.

    More specifically, pipeline companies must:

    • Inform municipalities about the location of the pipelines.

    • Educate stakeholders about how to make a locate request and get information to dig safely in the vicinity of pipelines.

    • Regularly hold damage prevention public awareness activities to remind people about the presence of their infrastructure and necessary precautions.

    Those who dig such as builders, farmers and municipalities must:

    • Call or click before they dig to find out from the pipeline companies about the lines’ location, and how to conduct their activities safely with regards to the pipeline, before undertaking any excavation work.

    • Advise the companies to which they issue digging permits or contracts of the requirement to contact their one-call centre, which will notify all of the buried infrastructure owners registered with them of your intent to excavate. The pipeline company and other infrastructure owners will give you the information that you need to conduct your project safely.

    • Inform the pipeline companies of any contact with the pipeline.

    Every year, Patrick’s team meets with those who dig in order to make them aware of the risks and requirements for safe ground disturbance practices.

    “We meet with farmers, landscapers, construction workers and municipal staff to educate them on the importance of understanding how to prevent these incidents and ensuring they know proper digging protocols,” he says.

    “We want to remind people that the risks of incidents are real, but that it’s possible to eliminate them by following a few simple rules.”

    The Click Before You Dig website act as a one-stop shop. Request can be done 24/7 and one can attach maps and pictures of their project site.

    Unauthorized activities

    The key data sets monitored by NEB inspectors are unauthorized activities conducted on the pipeline right of way and in the prescribed area, which is the area of land extending 30 metres on each side of the pipeline.

    The NEB categorizes unauthorized activities into three types:

    • Ground disturbance (e.g., excavation, construction or tree planting)

    • Encroachments

    • Vehicle crossing
    “We monitor these reported activities because they provide our team with insight into the communities’ understanding, or lack of, of the rules that should be followed when working near pipelines,” shares Marie-Eve Latour, NEB inspector.

    “We keep statistics about what happened, who was involved and where unauthorized activities have occurred.”

    The reports come from the pipeline operators who must conduct regular surveillance activities of the right of ways and are required to report all unauthorized activities.

    The data helps the NEB focus its outreach efforts, and also measure the effectiveness of its approach.

    Between 2014 and 2017, there has been significant increase of authorized activities from 150 to 352.

    When questioned about the increase, Latour explains that the introduction of the Online Event Reporting System in 2015 made it easier for pipeline companies to report unauthorized activities, as they are required to by the regulations.

    “Updated regulations in June 2016 made some changes as to what is reportable and we saw an increase in the number of unauthorized activities being reported,” she says.

    “Of the three categories of unauthorized activities, ground disturbance have the greatest potential for damaging the pipe and causing harm, and are considered to be near misses.”

    In fact in the vast majority of cases, nothing actually happens to the pipelines.

    However, any incident or contact with a pipe, as minor as it is, must be reported to the pipeline company.

    This is because even a simple scratch can lead to corrosion and increase the risk of a rupture.

    Figure 1: Unauthorized activities by type reported near federally-regulated pipelines

    Explore incident data in Canada

    Interested in learning more about pipeline incidents in Canada?

    The NEB has created a data visualization tool that allows users to explore 10 years of pipeline incident data and draw their own conclusions about its performance as a safety regulator.

    With a few clicks, it is possible to examine the relationships between 13 variables such as incident type, what and why the incident occurred, the substance involved, as well as the company responsible.

    Katherine L Murphy, who leads data visualization at the NEB, says it is part of the organization’s efforts to make data more accessible.

    “Our data sets have been available to the public in Excel and other formats for a number of years,” shared Katherine.

    “But we noticed that few were accessing the information, so we decided to look at the potential of visualization tools to help users more easily analyze large and complex data sets, and look for trends and patterns.”

    In addition to the interactive incident data visualization tool, the NEB has also created a similar tool to help Canadians explore energy production and consumption trends and forecast into the future, and is working with more datasets, with plans to launch a tool on import and export of energy products in the near future.

    You need to be signed in to add your comment.

  • 12 Ways the NEB Leads on Open Government

    What is open government?

    Open government, according to the Government of Canada, is to “create greater transparency, accountability, increase citizen engagement, and drive innovation and economic opportunities through open data, open information, and open dialogue.”

    What open government means to us

    • To provide Canadians access to all NEB documents and enable transparency;

    • To improve accessibility and understanding of government data;

    • To showcase what we do and how we perform; and

    • To engage and interact with Canadians – receive their feedback and search for ways to implement it, when applicable.

    Here are 12 ways we lead on Open Government at the federal level.


    #1 Online inspections report

    Get a glimpse at the work of NEB inspectors by checking their reports online.

    When a company does not meet requirements, our inspectors can issue an order requiring actions be taken, notices of violations and monetary penalties. Enforcement actions are also posted online under the same section.


    #2 Publicly-available emergency manuals

    In 2016, the NEB was the first North American regulator to require pipeline companies to publish their emergency procedures manuals online.

    The NEB made this information publicly available after receiving wide-ranging support through an extensive consultation process carried out in 2015.


    #3 Compliance conditions tracking tool

    Monitor the progress of pipeline companies in meeting approval conditions with this NEB tracking tool launched in 2016.

    This tool offers an alternative source for Canadians to receive and understand compliance and approval information. It also addresses the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s (picture) recommendation to improve public access to information about company compliance with approval conditions.


    #4 Interactive pipeline map

    Discover NEB-regulated pipelines using the interactive pipeline map. Users have the chance to zoom into their community and learn about pipelines located around them.

    This tool can be customized to explore pipeline incidents that have occurred since 2008. It can also be filtered by incident type, year and geographical area.


    #5 Safety performance dashboard

    Access pipeline safety performance data through our online dashboard, and monitor industry trends.

    Downloadable datasets on pipeline ruptures and pipeline performance are also available.


    #6 Making data open

    Open data means data are:

    Digital and machine readable
    Free of restrictions on use or redistribution

    The NEB produces data sets for the public, which are displayed on the Government of Canada website. Currently, there are 29 data sets with more to come throughout 2018.

    This enables Canadians to have unrestricted access to NEB related information.


    #7 Energy data visualization

    Data visualization goes beyond open data: it provides a way for users to analyze information and draw their own conclusions.

    Use our visualization tools to explore Canada’s energy future or incidents at NEB-regulated pipelines and facilities.



    #8 Oil & gas in Canada’s North

    Access key geophysical, sampling and well history reports about oil and gas in Canada’s North through our dedicated information service.

    Download datasets on significant and commercial discoveries and well production data from operating companies in the Northwest Territories.


    #9 Public record index

    View over 200,000 documents submitted by companies, the NEB or hearing participants by browsing our online index.

    Watch or listen to live and past webcast of Board hearings that are archived on our website.


    #10 Participant Funding Program

    Apply to our Participant Funding Program (PFP) if you’re directly impacted by a pipeline project or you have technical expertise to contribute.

    Since the PFP was introduced in 2010, the NEB has announced more than $11.5 million for participation in 19 eligible public hearings.


    #11 Expanded in-person engagement

    In-person interaction is just as important as digital communication – every year, the NEB conducts over 100 meetings across communities in Canada to bring awareness to energy initiatives and understand community concerns.

    In 2015, we established two regional offices in Montréal and Vancouver, in addition to our office in Yellowknife, to increase our community-based and regional focus.


    #12 Additional online engagement

    Visit our new NEB Roundtable website where we provide a deeper insight into what we do and an alternative form of online engagement.

    This platform enables us to better collaborate and socialize with Canadians and continue a conversation about NEB initiatives. We welcome your feedback as your opinions matter and foster understanding and insight for all of us at the NEB.

    You need to be signed in to add your comment.

  • Artists and data experts work closely to create visualizations

    Artists and scientists both strive to see the world in new ways, and then tell others their insights. Data visualization relies on both disciplines as storytelling tools.

    The National Energy Board (NEB) is using data visualization to turn massive spreadsheets of data on Canada’s energy sector into visually appealing images the mind can more easily understand.

    To this end, the NEB established a three-year collaborative initiative with the Interactions lab at the University of Calgary, VizworX, a specialized software development company, as well as TheHesterView Inc., a leader in data innovation projects.

    Together, the team creates visualization tools through a thorough multi-step process that helps them understand and structure the data. Here is an overview of how the process unfolds.

    Step 1: Prepare data primer and data set

    The development gets under way with identifying and preparing needed data and meeting with the NEB subject matter experts to build an initial understanding of the data.

    Step 2: Understand the data; what questions it can answer

    As the team gets familiar with the data, they gain a sense of what stories the data can tell, and identify what questions the visualizations can answer.

    Step 3: Data and design workshopProject participants during the data and design workshop

    Developing visualizations in an “iterative” process – which means concepts are developed, analyzed and refined repeatedly.

    Early on, the group meets for an intensive data understanding workshop at the NEB, involving the technical, design and visualization teams.

    At this stage, the key pieces of data to highlight are selected and preliminary ideas are sketched out and shared internally.

    The NEB visualization team acts as an interpreter and coordinator for the various groups – internal data experts, design team and technical team – to ensure an end-product that delivers on all goals and requirements.

    Sketches of the NEB’s incident visualization tool in its preliminary phase

    Step 4: Develop, analyze and refine preliminary ideas

    After significant idea generation, design development and fine-tuning, the visualization is ready to be brought to reality.

    Step 5: Interactive and accessible web app created

    VizworX then works on the software coding that will turn the ideas into reality. Its team builds the visualization for the web – creating the source code and bringing the interactive features to life.

    Step 6: Fine tune visualization with input from designers and the NEB

    The process of turning the visual design into a full-fledged web app involves constant communication between designers, programmers, and the NEB visualization team. This collaboration also results in some final refinements to the visualization design.

    Step 7 & 8: Quality checks and upload final visualization to the NEB website

    After final reviews and quality checks, the visualization is uploaded to the NEB’s website and optimized so it’s easy for search engines, such as Google and Bing, to find it.

    Step 9: Upload data and source code to open.canada.ca

    The final step is to post it to the federal government’s open data website: open.canada.ca. The source code is also posted for other organizations that may wish to learn from the development work.

    The finished product is a powerful new tool that enables Canadians to take part in informed discussions about the management of the country’s energy.

    You need to be signed in to add your comment.

  • Unique collaboration built on shift to transparency

    "Transparency” has become a buzzword for governments seeking to engage citizens more fully. But shining a light on information involves a lot more than just lifting the shades.

    The National Energy Board (NEB) began its shift to transparency years ago by, for example, making its data on pipeline incidents open to the public. The big reveal had limited impact, however, because few of us are experts in sorting through massive Excel spreadsheets.

    More was needed so that any Canadian citizen could – and would – digest the information, find the stories and engage in an informed discussion about the 73,000 kilometres of interprovincial and international pipelines the NEB regulates. How could the NEB make it easier for anyone to discover the stories hidden in the numbers?

    That question led to a unique collaboration between the NEB, an information visualization research laboratory at the University of Calgary, and VizworX, a customized software developer. Together, they have developed a way to turn the NEB’s 2008 to 2017 data on pipeline incidents into visuals that are easy to create, understand and communicate.

    Consultant Annette Hester was brought on board in 2015 and began a countrywide search for the best data visualization laboratory in Canada. After speaking with experts at leading institutions, like the Ontario College of Art and Design, in Toronto, and the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, she was pointed to Dr. Sheelagh Carpendale at the Interactions lab within the University of Calgary.

    The U of C lab was the only one large enough to handle the full spectrum of what the NEB was looking to achieve. The data visualization team at the Interactions Lab approach visualization research from both the design and computer science perspective. This dual perspective, coupled with the collaboration with VizworX has led to web-based data visualizations of NEB pipeline incident data.

    It was a project unlike anything the Interactions lab or NEB had done before, so negotiations took months. But the collaborators agreed upon a shared goal: using research into data visualization to make the NEB’s information more understandable and accessible to members of the public.

    The NEB believes data visualization helps everyone, including experts and non-experts, to better understand the raw numbers by making tools available to analyze large and complex data sets, and look for trends and patterns. Those goals dovetail with U of C labs’ research focus, which is on finding new ways for people to connect with, and better understand, data.

    To test the waters, a small team undertook a pilot project, which became Exploring Canada’s Energy Future. The three-month pilot project tested the idea that visualizations could make data more understandable for everyone. The pilot was not only enthusiastically received, but it also earned the Contribution to Innovation in the Regulatory Field award from the Community of Federal Regulators, a partnership of federal departments and agencies.

    Bolstered by the pilot’s success, the NEB and U of C labs undertook a full-scale project: one that would create visualizations of further NEB data, including incidents at NEB-regulated pipelines and facilities, advance research into the design behind the visualizations, and give NEB staff the tools they need to carry on once the research is done.

    The three-year Data Visualization Initiative (DVI), which runs until fall 2019, will provide additional visualizations of data for other aspects of the NEB’s work. This experiment goes beyond just making data open; it contributes to the NEB’s mandate to encourage energy conversations by providing Canadians with unbiased, reliable and accessible information.

    Katherine Murphy, DVI project manager, says the research being done will advance the use of visualizations for any interested organization. Making the code open source, she says, is “built right into the contracts.”

    Sharing the research findings is a huge part of the project. Murphy says the team spends a lot of time talking to the data community in other government organizations who are watching the DVI project closely.

    Dr. Sheelagh Carpendale, project co-lead, who heads the Innovation in Visualization research group, says the attraction for academics is the ground-breaking nature of the work. “We are a research lab,” she says. “We’re a very small group of people working on trying to answer the next big question.”

    “There isn’t a template for what we’re doing,” adds Dr. Wesley Willett, project co-lead, who heads the Data Experience research group. “We’re acclimatizing the NEB to start thinking about their data in new ways.”

    In the next phase of research, the U of C labs will work with various citizen groups, such as Indigenous communities, to learn more about what engagement with the visualization tool might mean. The feedback citizens provide will inevitably lead to refinements in the tool.

    Resource: Energy visualization at the Interactions Lab

    You need to be signed in to add your comment.

  • Visual concepts influenced by master’s student’s sketches

    Bon Adriel Aseniero

    Five years ago, Bon Adriel Aseniero was sorting through a number of research papers for his master’s thesis in Computer Science at the University of Calgary, assessing how people were working with data, when he struck upon a novel idea.

    “I had no idea what was cool or interesting in the papers,” he said. So, he devised a unique way to make sense of the data. He sorted the information visually, in interconnected columns to help him understand what he was looking at.

    When the paper was published in 2014, he moved on from the clever tool he had created to sort the data.

    Until 2017.

    That’s when Dr. Sheelagh Carpendale, his thesis adviser, and director of the Innovation in Vizualization (InnoVis) lab at the U of C, remembered the novel way Bon chose to visually present the data. Dr. Carpendale was reminded of his idea while she was reviewing concepts prepared by Doris Kosminsky, Professor of Visual Communication at the School of Fine Arts at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

    “I wasn’t aware I was building something totally new,” says Bon. “I was just trying to sort through the papers.” But, to Dr. Carpendale, Bon was building on “parallel coordinates,” visualizations pioneered decades ago by Alfred Inselberg, an American-Israeli computer scientist now based at Tel Aviv University.

    Image depicting Bon's original parallel coordinates visualization.

    “Doris showed me stacked bar graphs . . . and I thought we could take these one step further by including the ideas in Bon’s version of parallel coordinates,” says Dr. Carpendale. She approached him about joining a project to present the National Energy Board’s (NEB) data in an easy-to-digest visual form.

    The NEB contracted with the U of C’s Interactions lab, seeking to find new ways to understand the mounds of data it has on pipeline incidents and related facilities it regulates in Canada. The incidents visualization tool is designed to make it easier for anyone, including non-experts, to spot trends by seeing the data presented in a visual form.

    Now working on his PhD, Bon’s research is on how to use visualization for public engagement – exactly the purpose of the NEB project. The visualization tool, he says, allows people to generate their own stories. “I’m really into the idea of stories” from data, he says.

    Bon did not begin his academic career thinking of data visualization. Born in the Philippines, he came to Calgary with his family in 2006. In high school, he was interested in computer science. His passion for computer games led him to learn computer coding. During his undergrad years, he met someone who was involved in the human interaction side of programming.

    “I attended one lecture on data visualization, and that’s where it all clicked for me.”

    A drawing hobbyist, he felt a personal connection to Dr. Carpendale, who also came from a visual arts background. “We understand the same things” about seeing data in a new way, he says.

    Bon stresses the visualizations he created were just the start. They took on new life as team members added their own ideas to his concepts. He says the team helped him step back and critique – and therefore improve – his own work. “Sometimes you fall in love with your work too much,” he says.

    Visualizations works best, he says, when it is they are aesthetically pleasing, and capture people’s curiosity. To him, anyone is capable of understanding sophisticated visualizations, even those that are much more complicated than the pie charts and bar graphs we are all familiar with.

    To Bon, visualizations are a tremendous way to build public trust in the data from agencies, such as the NEB.

    “We want to be able to build data provenance (validation),” he says. “We want to be able to show that this information is not biased.”

    Now 28, Bon hopes to pursue his learning through teaching new media design once his PhD thesis is complete. Microsoft and Google are on his list of potential future employers.

    You need to be signed in to add your comment.