Hey, that's the United States, as seen from space. Notice the lights of the big cities -- Los Angeles down in the lower left, and Chicago and Milwaukee ringing Lake Michigan in the top right quadrant. And circled at top, coming in as big or bigger than metro areas like Denver or Dall-Fort Worth, is that booming American collosus of Williston, North Dakota.
What the...? OK, here's the deal. When you see the lights of L.A., you're looking at shopping malls, skate parks and millions of homes. When you see the bright lights, big city of North Dakota, you're looking pretty much at just one thing.
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, as you probably know, 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.
Those hot gases light up the sky and then they circle the planet -- one reason why 2012 was the hottest record that modern man has recorded.
Think about that...and have a cool weekend.