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The Huge Lights in North Dakota
January 16, 2013 1:12 PM   Subscribe

The "Mysterious patch of light in North Dakota" is not so mysterious. Near the edge of the empty western plains there is a massive light source. On some nights North Dakota is almost as bright as the Aurora Borealis.
posted by edgeways (39 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh! I remember seeing that latest batch of nighttime imagery of the US and wondering what it was - I figured it was some Canadian city or something. But, wow, not so much.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:20 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you load it up in Google Maps and check out the satellite view, the little burrowing rigs make it look like the entire prairie has scabies.
posted by The White Hat at 1:25 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


That fracking sucks.
posted by Splunge at 1:27 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Or maybe it's all the new strip clubs?
posted by Auden at 1:28 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe someone turned on their tap water.
posted by goethean at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Interesting, if a little breathless.

The one image with the aurora borealis in the background is wrong, though. The caption says
Looking down from the International Space Station, those three splashes of light you see are Edmonton, Canada, in the foreground, Calgary in the middle, and the North Dakota oil fields in the back. The green arch is, of course, the aurora.

Unless North Dakota is suddenly now north of Edmonton, that just isn't true. On inspection, though, its close enough: that light beyond Edmonton is almost certainly due to the oil sands operations around Fort MacMurray.
posted by bumpkin at 1:34 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have to say that article was a little light.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:47 PM on January 16, 2013


Unless North Dakota is suddenly now north of Edmonton, that just isn't true.

No, it's correct. South is up in that picture. Calgary is south of Edmonton. You can see Edmonton, a little spot for Red Deer above it, Calgary above that, and then the oil fields.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:50 PM on January 16, 2013


So much for the Buffalo Commons...
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 1:51 PM on January 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


South is up in that picture.

I thought so too at first, but watching the video, you can see the image shown at about 0:30, and in context it's clear that north is up: watch until about 0:35 and you'll see Lake Michigan arrive from the right, which leaves no doubt about the orientation. (You can also see the Rockies in the still, to the left of Calgary and Edmonton, and if you know the geography of Alberta it's pretty clear the close splotch has to be Calgary and the far one Edmonton — the mountains are only an hour's drive from Calgary, but three hours' drive from Edmonton — not to mention the clear arrangement of Lethbridge and Medicine Hat... but Lake Michigan is probably more of a slam dunk for people who aren't from around here.)

The North Dakota splotch appears in the video, but not in the still shown.

... And the article has been updated since we started complaining about it. The still now correctly shows the North Dakota splotch. BEANPLATING WASTED.
posted by stebulus at 2:03 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I was wrong... I didn't watch the video.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:07 PM on January 16, 2013


(Also, the ISS orbits at 51° to the equator, but Edmonton is at 53°N, so I guess it can only see Edmonton when looking northish. But again, beanplating wasted. Wasted, I tell you.)
posted by stebulus at 2:10 PM on January 16, 2013


When I was looking at these nighttime photos, I was struck by a crescent of lights south of San Antonio, Texas, where, to my knowledge, there is nothing but mesquite trees, cacti and the occasional goat. Turns out, also fracking.
posted by tippiedog at 2:11 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless North Dakota is suddenly now north of Edmonton, that just isn't true. On inspection, though, its close enough: that light beyond Edmonton is almost certainly due to the oil sands operations around Fort MacMurray.

Fort McMurray is quite a long way to the northwest of Edmonton, way up near the Sask border.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:12 PM on January 16, 2013


Northeast.
posted by stebulus at 2:21 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Argh, the mouseover caption is still wrong! The oil fields are the big patch just right of centre, not to the left as it says.
But anyway whatever; this was interesting from the NPR comments:
Texas banned flaring back in the 1930's. There is barely any regulation because ND isn't used to this amount of activity and wasn't prepared.
Flaring seems like such a crazy waste of energy, and so polluting to boot. WTF ND? (Not the first time I've had that sentiment)
posted by Flashman at 2:25 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is what energy independence from the Middle East looks like.

(Unless the U.S. switches to a hydrogen economy, but try selling that to Congress.)
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 2:29 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Daddy, tell us the one about fuel being so cheap that they would just set fire to it and watch it light up the sky? And they had people in spaceships who could see it burning from outer space?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


I drove through the entirety of SD late last year and the flaring and smoke, especially at night, put me in mind of Mordor
posted by edgeways at 2:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fracking, there? Isn't that a little too close to the dome of the world's biggest super volcano, for mucking about? This is dumber than chopping down rainforest.
posted by Goofyy at 2:34 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've been hearing a lot about that part of the US lately
posted by Stu-Pendous at 2:44 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]




Texas banned flaring back in the 1930's. There is barely any regulation because ND isn't used to this amount of activity and wasn't prepared.

And I bet the ND politicians are afraid of implementing a ban, but to them I say: what are the companies going to do? The oil is in ND, and it ain't going anywhere. There's no reason (presuming it's going to happen in the first place) not to force companies to capture the natural gas.
posted by chimaera at 3:05 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fracking, there? Isn't that a little too close to the dome of the world's biggest super volcano, for mucking about?

Can't drive your SUV away from the lava flow if it don't have a full tank of gas.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:20 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Please can we have a mission to Mars! If we don't get off this rock we are all completely fucked.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:04 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, come on, a little flaring off never hurt anyone. At least they do the actual cracking someplace else.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:12 PM on January 16, 2013


My initial thought after viewing that image and reading the article: Why do I suddenly feel like I'm in a Neal Stephenson novel?
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:14 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, come on, a little flaring off never hurt anyone. At least they do the actual cracking someplace else.

I'm joking by the way. I don't think we're going to see any real effort to find a way to conserve the natural gas. Gas is so cheap now. Plunging gas royalties are the main reason I don't have a government job anymore.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:16 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


...according to North Dakota's Department of Mineral Resources, 36 percent of the natural gas now extracted in North Dakota isn't captured. Gas isn't as profitable as oil...

That's absolutely unconscionable. The state just lets the companies flare it off instead of mandatory capture - all that energy wasted as heat and light in the prairies, not to mention all that gaseous carbon.
posted by porpoise at 4:17 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recently met a man working on the oil pipeline in ND. He said that blue collar oil pipeline workers are making six figures in ND. Ayn Rand would fracking love it.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 6:35 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is really quite interesting. Thanks for posting!
posted by rebent at 6:38 PM on January 16, 2013


That's not gas, it's testosterone.

(Or what Stu-Pendous linked to already.)
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:15 PM on January 16, 2013


They should ban the flaring as they have in Texas and in most developed parts of the oilfield. The energy companies will still do business there.
posted by arcticseal at 7:48 PM on January 16, 2013


I recently met a man working on the oil pipeline in ND. He said that blue collar oil pipeline workers are making six figures in ND. Ayn Rand would fracking love it.

About fifteen years ago, when I was younger, I considered going up to the oil patch in northern Alberta, but a friend who worked up there warned against it. Very dirty and dangerous working conditions, often in rough company. The camps in British Columbia have a very bad reputation for drugs. Just bad news, unless you are very very tough.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 PM on January 16, 2013


One bad frack, one shake of the ground in the wrong place, and Wyoming is going to blow to the stratosphere, and pretty much the entire "bread basket" is going to be buried in volcanic ash. Yea, plenty of good folks dead right away. They may be the lucky ones, cuz the next thing just might be "nuclear winter".

All for the want of a tank of gas for your damned car, so you don't have to rub elbows with a stranger.
posted by Goofyy at 10:09 PM on January 16, 2013


OK. I live in the middle of this mess. For a brief period of time I worked in the office of one of the big three oil companies. Plus we have a couple of these wells on our farmland. So I have a little inside information.

"North Dakota law says that flares are subject to taxes and royalties after one year, even if the gas isn't being sold, but critics suspect that the state keeps granting exceptions and state regulators seem less than energetic when farmers call to complain about poisons in the air and water. Many farmers in North Dakota can't prevent drillers from drilling — even if they'd like to. Decades ago, energy companies bought "mineral rights" to the land below those farms — so the companies can move in, create drilling pads where they please, move in trucks and workers, without the farmers' consent. "

Some of this is just piss-poor reporting from a distance. The oil companies are moving so fast that they have yet to lay the pipelines to capture this gas. There's three big oil companies and a passel of wildcatters. The big boys are slowly laying pipe to get this gas but it's not nearly as big of a priority as drilling on land they have under lease. If the lease expires, getting it back runs $2500-3000 per mineral acre. The average well covers 1280 acres. Do the math.

Now, on your average piece of western ND farmland, there's a lot of people holding mineral acres. Maybe grandpa sold off some to a bank to get money for machinery or more land, or to keep from losing the farm, maybe the land has changed hands a few times and some of the minerals stayed with the family that used to own it, the state often has a percentage. But most farmers grudgingly allow the drilling. Hell, even if you only have a hundred mineral acres under a well, that's still around $1500 a month. Energy companies hardly EVER own mineral acres. They negotiate a lease and if the lease was agreed on before the boom (most are off the short oil boom in the early 80s), they got off fairly cheap.

There are some that have parted with their mineral acres either through bad luck or foolishness. I have distant relations whose parents sold off everything to keep the farm out of foreclosure. I have a third cousin who suckered in to sell his minerals for a quick $20K. 40-50 miles down the road, around Stanley ND, there's a local speculator that bought thousands of mineral acres from folks whose luck ran out. Now there's a pickup whose tires are probably gonna get slashed.

State regulators aren't lazy, they're just overwhelmed. To many wells to keep track of but they're a diligent bunch. It could be slowed down by the state but we have a Republican governor who is bought and paid for by the oil interests. So his administration stamps out drilling permits like clockwork.

I've talked to oil men who look at those flares and shake their heads in disgust. It's not near the money they get for the crude, but that gas is still worth a pretty penny. And they can't get it piped to where it should be and if they don't get it piped within a year (and they never do), they pay royalties on it without collecting the actual gas. Nothing frosts an accountant's shorts faster than burning up money.

I look out on the prairie at night and see orange lights dotting the horizon. It didn't used to be that way and it makes me a little ill. There's hundreds of things we don't like about the boom but the destruction of our natural beauty really sticks in the craw. Other than a few exceptions (Statoil, Hess, and oddly, Halliburton), most oil businesses are just pigs. They aren't good stewards of the land and could care less what their places of business look like. Which doesn't sit well with a population of mostly Keilloresque Germans and Scandinavians who are quick to judge a neighbor who doesn't mow his lawn or have his grain bins in a perfectly straight row. We are definitely looking forward to the drilling to end, the traffic to die down, to life getting back to normal. And for the only lights on the prairie to be the next farm over.
posted by Ber at 10:11 PM on January 16, 2013 [16 favorites]


He said that blue collar oil pipeline workers are making six figures in ND.

Rape and plunder always did pay better.

Once again poor NoDak gets ripped off.
posted by Twang at 7:37 AM on January 17, 2013


When those Black Marble photos were floating, and the sleuthing began, I learned way too much about the current Fracking gold rush. The failure of educating people about how these things always turn out is really apparent.
posted by DigDoug at 7:51 AM on January 17, 2013


Just for clarity, you can't get the oil out without liberating the gas. So you need to collect it, which means pipe it away, or burn it in a flare.
posted by bystander at 11:19 PM on January 18, 2013


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