From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published January 22, 2013 10:03 AM

NASA Images Reveal 'Kuwait on the Prairie'

Last month, we published a story about newly released NASA satellite images and we were amazed at the quality and detail of the pictures. See Views from Above. Looking at the United States at night, we expect to see patches of light around major cities and brightness from dense populations along the coasts. But after studying the photos, Rovert Krulwich a correspondent for NPR, reports on a mysterious patch of light that shows up in North Dakota. With a population of under 700,000 for the whole state, and a state who’s largest industry is agriculture, what can these lights possibly be from?


Krulwich attributes this light to a new oil and gas field that wasn’t in the picture six years ago. The lights are sourced from hundreds of rigs and fiery flares of natural gas as evidence of fracking. Fracking is a technique used to release petroleum, natural gas, and other substances for extraction from fractures in rocks. The process involves pumping water and chemicals down pipes, which in turn cracks the rock, and releases oil.

The main source for these bright lights comes from flares of natural gas. When oil is brought to the surface, it will often bring natural gas with it. North Dakota allows drillers to burn this gas as it isn’t as profitable as oil and it would cost energy companies time and money to carry the gas away for use.

Altogether, one hundred and fifty oil companies have been drilling in this region since 2008 due to new rock fracturing technology on what is known as the Bakken formation. The Bakken formation is a rock unit that occupies about 200,000 square miles underlying parts of North Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan and was discovered to have oil in the 1950s. These companies are now producing around 660,000 barrels a day making North Dakota the second-largest oil producing state in America and according to the locals of North Dakota, the region is referred to as "Kuwait on the Prairie."

Fracking has been a highly controversial topic in recent news as it can cause major environmental damage, not only for contamination to groundwater, but for air quality. However, on the other side, the oil rush in North Dakota has created new jobs and has reduced the nation’s oil imports by 18 percent thus improving energy security.

Whether you support or are against the fracking industry, one thing is for certain: the lights from North Dakota have been put on the map.

Read more at NPR.

Illustration courtesy of NPR via NASA's Earth Observatory. 

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