North Dakota natural gas fields can be seen from space

NPR's Robert Krulwich circled this bright spot on a night-time satellite image of the United States. As Krulwich points out, this cluster of lights is new — it wasn't there in 2005. And it's not a city.

Instead, that bright spot is a shining reminder of the natural gas boom. What you're seeing are the lights from drilling rigs and flares burning gas.



  1. Based on the image in the post, it looks like pretty much every little tiny town in the remotest parts of the desert or the plains can be seen from space. So I’m not sure that “can be seen from space” really implies anything in particular.

    1. Yeah I thought I remembered reading that all the city lights from space type pictures were fake in some way.

      1. I was probably thinking of something like this:
        So it is not real as in a visible light photograph, but it is a real in a composite image from special cameras kind of way.

    1.  Wow – I’d never seen that before.  So, if nothing else, at least N. Korea is good for doing astronomy.

    1. Wrong! Light pollution is horrible.

      There’s people who are born and live in cities who have never seen the milky way, which is a terrible way to live.

      I understand that light at night makes the city safer, but it comes with a pretty big cost (both quality of life and financial, as running all those lamps isn’t cheap). I have to drive for hours to get far enough away from Chicago that city glow doesn’t interfere with photographs.

      1. North Korea isn’t Dark Skies friendly because they’re concerned about Dark Skies, they do it because they have no power….

        They probably don’t do as much astrophotography as a nation that you do in your spare time either, so it’s totally wasted on them.

    2. Yes, and better this than the pristine dark that represents the middle of the ocean, since you would drown there. Unless you have a boat, of course. If you do, the stars are beautiful.

      What were we supposed to learn from these comparisons, again?

  2. being able to see a perfectly crystal clear sky isn’t all about light pollution, it has alot to do with the weather of the area you are in, if its humid and close to sea level your not going to see as much as if you are on the top of a mountain with low humidity

    when we had the giant black out awhile back here in san diego you still couldn’t see that many stars, and there was no light pollution

  3. Oh look! We can see people’s faucets on fire from space! Cool!  Drill baby drill! Let’s light up the whole country with CLEAN FREE NATURAL GAS (that totally corrupts our water supply and makes earthquakes). Go! ‘merica.

    1.  Declining production?  Since when?  November had a (rare) 2% decline, and that was because of a winter storm.  North Dakota is producing a lot more oil than Alaska at this point, and will probably pass Texas in 2-3 years.

    1. The splotch is bigger than Chicagoland.  Calgary and Winnipeg put together aren’t half as big.

  4. No, not Canada. Track the lights as follows:
    – on the western tip of Lake Superior, there is a point of light. That’s Duluth.
    – directly west of that point of light, almost halfway to the big splotch of light, is another point. That’s Fargo.
    – still going directly west, a similar distance again, you get another point of light. That’s Bismarck.
    – slightly west of that and somewhat north is another point of light that is Minot.
    Those last two are the two last cities you can distinguish before the big smudge of light that is the gas field (though I believe you can also pick out Dickinson as a bright spot on the south end). 
    It may well extend into southern Canada and/or eastern Montana, but it looks to be mostly in ND, just as stated.

  5. You can almost read a newspaper at night in the Bakken fields. New plans are to generate electricity from the now spent gas to power rigs and equipment.

  6. American prosperity! So good to see!  This just might help pay for development some of the Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal, Geothermal, Biological renewable = perpetual = eternal, clean American energy sources – before it too runs out, just like Texas Oil did.  Facts seem to indicate that these wells are relatively short lived, and as demands skyrocket, will likely be pumped dry in decades. Pray we invest wisely in some of the eternals for the future of our country!

  7. That’s right, no food or fuel, and we’re burning fields and fields of natural gas 24-hours a day, just because the developers can’t be bothered to trap it.

  8.  You guys know that burning off fuel is pretty much normal operating procedure in ANY gas refiner plant, right?

  9. Read somewhere that the amount they’re burning would heat 500,000 homes. That’s a huge waste just because big oil can’t be bothered. I think someday we may regret doing that. Ain’t gonna last forever.

  10.  Cool Boomsb, so then I guess what you are saying is you approve of them exploding because of building pressure. Great, maybe you should re-think that approval or like. FYI – I am against fracking, I’m just saying that the flames everyone thinks is waste is actually required or we get NO gas at all.

  11. The problem with the Bakken reserve is they aren’t collecting any of the natural gas because there isn’t a pipeline. And they’re not building a pipeline because, hey, fuck it there’s oil to be pumped out now. That’s what is so galling about the flaring in western ND.

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