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The world’s second largest oil field, as seen from space

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

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NASA caught a glimpse of Kuwait’s Greater Burgan field in southeastern Kuwait:

Situated about 40 kilometers south of Kuwait City, the Greater Burgan field is thought to hold nearly a tenth of the world’s proven oil reserves and second only to Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar field (about 500 km to the south). Greater Burgan produces around 1.6 million barrels of oil per day (1 barrel = 42 gallons).

In the false-color image, you can still remnants of the oil well fires during the Persian Gulf War:

Vegetation appears red; buildings are white and gray; water is light blue; roads are gray; and the desert is tan. In the top image, a network of interlocking roads connects individual wellheads. The parts of the desert that appear to be stained a darker brown are most likely the remnants of oil lakes and tar mats that formed after oil well fires were ignited during the Persian Gulf War. In the wider view (bottom), Ahmadi, a wealthy suburb of Kuwait City and home to the Kuwait Oil Company headquarters, appears red due to trees and lawns.

You can also see gas flares in the image (showing up as bright orange). Gas flaring is a controversial practice, especially in the U.S. in light of the shale gas boom, but rather limited in Kuwait: only 1 percent of gas is flared off by the state-run oil company, compared to 17 percent in 2005. North Dakota, for reference, was flaring off as much as 30 percent of its gas in recent years (although that is expected to decline as regulations and technology are implemented).

For more on the history of Kuwait’s oil development Geo Expro has a deeper dive on the wars, occupations, and politics of developing Kuwait’s oil resources, like this:

A team of geologists started working in Kuwait in the hot summer of 1935. They recommended drilling at Bahrah; but a 2,423m well into the Cretaceous sediments drilled during 1936-37 yielded minor oil shows only. Meanwhile, gravity, magnetic and seismic surveys were conducted in the Burgan area, and on 16 October 1936 Burgan No. 1 was spudded at a seepage. Sediments below 1,000m had oil shows, and finally, on 23 February 1938 the well hit a high-pressure sandstone unit at a depth of 1,120m. It was a gusher that at last put Kuwait on the world oil map. […] From 1938 to 1942, eight additional wells drilled in the Burgan field were all productive and yielded new payzones in the underlying Burgan Formation. However, World War II put an end to these operations.

NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using data from NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team.

David Wogan About the Author: An engineer and policy researcher who writes about energy, technology, and policy - and everything in between. Based in Austin, Texas. Comments? Follow on Twitter @davidwogan.

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

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  1. 1. 6:59 pm 01/4/2014

    Real Writing Jobs

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  2. 2. Uncle.Al 7:00 pm 01/4/2014

    When I drive my car I am a designated eco-terrorist for expelling carbon dioxide. When petroleum producers flare off 150 billion cubic meters/year – 36 cubic miles/year – of natural gas, it is exemplary. Impale Al Gore onto a stack, spin the valve, and ignite the gas issuing from between his teeth.

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  3. 3. shjsmni 1:57 pm 01/5/2014

    Ah, Uncle.Al … nah, we don’t think of you as an eco-terrorist. We think of you as simply crazy, bonkers, certifiable, and Republican. All of these terms are redundant. Why don’t you do yourself, and all the world, a favor. Go down to your rec room, and pick out your favorite military-style weapon. You have a couple dozen, so it will take some time. Then pick out one of your 40,000 rounds of ammo that you’ve squirreled away. Load, but don’t lock. Write your last screed against Al Gore. Then put your squirming toad of a brain out of its misery.

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  4. 4. jtdwyer 3:21 pm 01/5/2014

    Very interesting – thanks!
    Of much greater impact is the enormous amount of flaring that has occurred during the past nearly 200 years of oil discovery and extraction. As I understand, untold amounts of natural gas were earlier ‘flared off’ in the heyday of drilling oil wells…

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  5. 5. nnena286 5:44 pm 01/5/2014

    Start working at home with Google! Just work for few hours and have more time with friends and family. I earn up to $500 per week. It’s by-far the best job Ive had. Online jobs give new hope during recession. You could check here

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  6. 6. jerryd 5:52 pm 01/5/2014

    I have top agree with 3. shjsmni that uncle has more than few screws loose.

    In N Dakota wasting so much NG when for not much they could take one of their low producing or played out wells and pump this wasted NG back underground to be retrieved at a nice profit when the pipelines reach it.

    There isn’t anything inherently bad with fracking, just the drillers won’t do it right to save a few $. So instead of investing for the long run by storing it, they just waste it.

    Same with sealing the well casings which leak HC’s, saltwater, etc into the water supplies simply to save a few $ yet ruin the water supply maybe forever worth so much more than a well that’ll only produce for 3 yrs.

    If they can’t do it right they shouldn’t be allowed to do it. And why we have to put serious regulations on them because they won’t do it themselves.

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