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North Dakota Light Pollution Seen From Space UPDATED

North Dakota Natural Gas Flares Seen from Space
North Dakota Natural Gas Flares Seen from Space

When looking at satellite photos of the earth taken at night, it is easy to see urban areas as brights spots in a sea of black. Rural areas barely even register on these night shots. The reason for this is mainly because of street and building lighting, and light pollution on a grand scale can be seen around every major urban center in the US, especially the New York Metropolitan and Greater Los Angeles areas, home to over 13 million people jointly. But what is that bright spot in North Dakota, a state with a population of barely 700,000?

Urban light pollution is one thing, but the bright spot in ND isn’t from an urban center. Rather, over the last few years, natural gas drilling companies have flooded into the area, about 150 at the moment. These companies are drilling, sometimes up to eight new hydraulic fracturing wells per day, and producing 660,000 barrels of natural gas daily. Of course, these drill rigs and wells require infrastructure, which would include lighting. The bright spot of light pollution in North Dakota isn’t from electric lights, but from natural gas flaring, which burns off “excess” natural gas.

Estimates put natural gas flaring at about 33% of what’s coming out of the ground, which means that about 330,000 barrels per day are simply burned off into the atmosphere. North Dakota is literally on fire, releasing [if my math is correct]119 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution into the atmosphere every day, and suddenly, that bright spot isn’t so bright any more.*

Currently, ND environmental laws allow flaring of waste natural gas, but I’m thinking that maybe they should take another look at what it’s doing to the atmosphere. True, natural gas emits less carbon dioxide than gasoline, but what’s the point if so much of it gets flared off?

*The entire transportation sector of the United States, including planes, trains, and automobiles, emits just 1.99 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, the same amount that the North Dakota Bakken Formation emits in just two weeks.

Someone was kind enough to request verification [read: challenge] of the actual location of these natural gas drilling operations. Here is a link from the original story on NPR, as well as the satellite map showing the location, just to clarify things a little.

Natural Gas Drilling Outside of Willston, ND
Natural Gas Drilling Outside of Willston, ND
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