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A New Light in the Sky – “Kuwait on the Prairie”

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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There’s a new light in the night sky – and it’s North Dakota.

Over the past 2 years, North Dakota has doubled its oil production to become the #2 producing state in the nation.  And with this oil has come a glut of natural gas – so much gas that the more than 150 oil and gas companies operating in the state don’t have anywhere to put it. In order to keep oil production levels high, these companies are flaring (burning) almost a third of the natural gas that they produce.

Locals call these fiery fields “Kuwait on the Prairie.” And, this frack-and-burn has left its impression on the night sky. In NASA’s most recent set of photographs of the earth at night from space, you can distinctly see the impact of this oil boom. Six years ago, this midwestern state on the Canadian border was pretty much dark in NASA’s photographs. Today, thanks to flaring and the oil derricks themselves, the region is literally glowing.

Photo Credit: NASA

Zooming in…

And here’s the North Dakota oil boom:

H/T Robert Kurlwich at NPR

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. M Tucker 4:35 pm 01/18/2013

    That “smile” that streaks through the southern part of Texas is one too. Frack and burn baby burn!

    Link to this

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