Sunday, February 03, 2013

What the frack are those lights?

See that big blob of lights on the far left edge of the picture of the US at night from space? That's in North Dakota. That's not a city. And those lights weren't there six years ago.

What you see is an immense new oil and gas field — nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, and/or the fiery flares of natural gas. 150 oil companies have come here, drilling up to 8 new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day — double the output two years ago — so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire.

Six years ago, this region was close to empty. The USGS knew there were oil deposits underground, but they were 2 miles below the surface. Only recently the industry developed a way to get that oil at practical cost thanks to fracking. When oil comes to the surface, it often brings natural gas with it and 29% 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 at least one year drillers are allowed to just let the gas flare. There are now so many gas wells burning fires in the North Dakota night, the fields can be seen from space. Locals call North Dakota "Kuwait on the Prairie".

(Condensed from NPR)

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