Wanton Waste and Pollution of the Air and Light and Soil

Can you figure out why is the northwestern corner of North Dakota lit up almost as bright as Manhattan?

I’m pretty sure I know.

And if you would like to see, in detail, what massive light pollution, air pollution, and increasing the CO2 content of the atmosphere looks like, you’ve come to the right place.

The map here is unique. I found it on  http://www.blue-marble.de/nightlights/2012 which allows you to see what the world looks like at night. As you might expect, big cities and their suburbs are all lit up, and remote, unpopulated places are mostly dark.

But there are some places way out in the boonies that are entirely toooo bright. Like northwestern North Dakota, as I hope you can see below.

waste and light pollution in north dakota

Part of that enormous blob of yellow in the center of the image is the super-bright lights on the oil rigs of the current North Dakota oil boom. The lighting, while probably rather cheaply and wastefully done, I at least understand. Drilling for oil in general, and fracking in particular, are dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs, and the work often goes on around the clock. Workers need to be able to see in order to be safe. However, I am sure that there are better lighting systems than ones that light up everything within 5 miles.

But that’s not the majority of that light.

Most of it is pure and simple waste.

Instead of bottling or piping out the natural gas (aka methane) that comes up along with the black,  oozing petroleum, they simply BURN OFF the gas.

It’s called “flaring”.

It’s a cold-blooded calculation by the corporate leadership: it is more profitable to them to burn up much of the gas than saving and selling it and using it later. So they light up enormous plumes that  light up the sky, literally 24/7, adding humongous amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and warming up the planet both directly and indirectly. And turning that part of the Great Plains into something resembling Dante’s Inferno.

Oil companies say they are selflessly pursuing “energy independence” for the US.

Don’t you believe it. They are selfishly pursuing profits. If they were really interested in simply producing more energy for the good citizens of the USA or wherever, then all of that gas would be bottled up or saved to be used later in our stoves, heating systems, factories, or vehicles, where people need it.

Instead of burning it off for nothing.

What a waste.

That’s capitalism in a nutshell.


Quoting from the NYT: (2011)

NEW TOWN, N.D. — Across western North Dakota, hundreds of fires rise above fields of wheat and sunflowers and bales of hay. At night, they illuminate the prairie skies like giant fireflies.

They are not wildfires caused by lightning strikes or other acts of nature, but the deliberate burning ofnatural gas by oil companies rushing to extract oil from the Bakken shale field and take advantage of the high price of crude. The gas bubbles up alongside the far more valuable oil, and with less economic incentive to capture it, the drillers treat the gas as waste and simply burn it.

Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day.

The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit, […]

All told, 30 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is burned as waste. No other major domestic oil field currently flares close to that much, though the practice is still common in countries like Russia, Nigeria and Iran.

With few government regulations that limit the flaring, more burning is also taking place in the Eagle Ford shale field in Texas, and some environmentalists and industry executives say that it could happen in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Ohio, too, as drilling expands in new fields there unlocked by techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

“North Dakota is not as bad as Kazakhstan, but this is not what you would expect a civilized, efficient society to do: to flare off a perfectly good product just because it’s expensive to bring to market,” said Michael E. Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin.

If you’d like to see close up photos of flaring, look at NYT here.

Published in: on January 28, 2013 at 2:53 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. sabrina.mcewen@comcast.net !-unbelievable…


  2. I forget if it was Blake or someone else who wrote a gripping description of the furnaces going day & night in Iron Bridge Gorge, one of the first horror-wonders of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britian. Whoever wrote it, that passage is the first thing I thought of when reading your post.

    The satellite photo is more sobering than the Times photos, which have a sort of surreal/PhotoShopped quality about them.


  3. People should save energy and reduce the waste pollution.


  4. What’s missing in this write-up is the view from the other side. You see, in order to capture the gas and get it to market, a large infrastructure is required, such as gathering pipelines, compressors, dehydrators, and other gas processing equipment. This infrastructure would cost millions of dollars. The return on natural gas production investments is very low, especially when it is a by-product of oil production. It’s really about supply, demand, and commodity price.
    The US natural gas market is flooded. There is more gas produced than this country can use. The US Energy Information Administration’s website clearly illustrates the explosion in natural gas production over the past 10 years. In 2008, nationwide production was approximately 6 billion cubic feet per day (BCFD). Today, it’s over 50 BCFD. That’s nearly 10 times what it was 10 years ago. The flooded market is keeping the market price extremely low. You can see that information here –

    As with any business, it is simply that – a business. Investors want a return on their money. Sadly, natural gas production from an oil field simply doesn’t get the returns. The Marcellus Shale play is another story. Single wells are producing millions of cubic feet per day. One hole in the Marcellus produces as much as hundreds of wells in the Bakken.
    Perhaps the author would like to invest his own money to capture and sell the gas. It’s not greed or wanton (willful, deliberate, or malicious) by the oil companies. It’s simple economics in a business world that most people don’t have the capability or desire to understand.


    • That’s the thing about capitalism… It’s not personal.


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