Mysterious patch of light shows up in North Dakota dark
BY ROBRT KRULWICH
NORTH DAKOTA -- Take a look at a map of America at night. The cities are ablaze, the Great Lakes and the oceans dark, but at the center, where the Eastern lights give way to the empty Western plains, there's a mysterious clump of light there.
It's a little to the left, high up near the Canadian border. In the the upper left there's a patch that looks like a big city — but there is no big city in that part of North Dakota. There's mostly grass. So what are those lights doing there? What is that? It turns out, yes, that's not a city. And those lights weren't there six years ago.
Six years ago, this region was close to empty. The few ranchers who lived here produced wheat, alfalfa, oats and corn. The U.S. Geological Survey knew there were oil deposits underground, but deep down, 2 miles below the surface. It wasn't till this century that the industry developed a way to pull that oil to the surface at a cost that made it practical. Fracking means pumping water and chemicals down pipes, fracturing the rock, releasing the oil. The technology is hugely controversial, in part because of those lights.
When oil comes to the surface, it often brings natural gas with it, and according to North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources, 29 percent of the natural gas now extracted in North Dakota is flared off. Gas isn't as profitable as oil, and the energy companies don't always build the pipes or systems to carry it away. For a year (with extensions), North Dakota allows drillers to burn gas, just let it flare. There are now so many gas wells burning fires in the North Dakota night, the fracking fields can be seen from deep space
Courtesy of NPR