Wasted natural gas is burned off in North Dakota


North Dakota oil operator flaring natural gas

Across western North Dakota, hundreds of fires rise above fields of wheat and sunflowers and bales of hay. At night, they illuminate the prairie skies like giant fireflies.

They are not wildfires caused by lightning strikes or other acts of nature, but the deliberate burning of natural gas by oil companies rushing to extract oil from the Bakken shale field and take advantage of the high price of crude. The gas bubbles up alongside the far more valuable oil, and with less economic incentive to capture it, the drillers treat the gas as waste and simply burn it.

Every day, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared this way — enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day.

The flared gas also spews at least two million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, as much as 384,000 cars or a medium-size coal-fired power plant would emit, alarming some environmentalists.

All told, 30 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is burned as waste. No other major domestic oil field currently flares close to that much, though the practice is still common in countries like Russia, Nigeria and Iran…

“North Dakota is not as bad as Kazakhstan, but this is not what you would expect a civilized, efficient society to do: to flare off a perfectly good product just because it’s expensive to bring to market,” said Michael E. Webber, associate director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Texas at Austin…

Flaring – halted years ago – is a step backward for our domestic energy industry. Most oil and gas fields in the United States have well-developed facilities to gather and process gas as a result of conservation movements, environmental activism – and the days when Congress was pressed into caring about the health of our nation.

Those cares were sent packing by Bush the Little, refused re-entry permits by today’s Republicans and the Kool Aid Party.

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