April 11. The oil boom in North Dakota is so hot that drillers just burn away millions of cubic feet of natural gas every day. The picture above is an actual NASA photo of the section of the state which is home to the Bakken shale oil field. The lights, for the most part, are the flares, some of which are 30 feet high.
Natural gas is mostly methane. When flared it releases carbon dioxide and some methane. Methane is is about 20 time worse than carbon dioxide in its greenhouse effects (though it doesn’t last as long as CO2 in the atmosphere).
When they drill into the shale bed natural gas comes up along with the oil. Natural gas, of course, is valuable, but right now there are not enough pipelines so much of it is burned off. According to Bloomberg News in North Dakota, “Drillers flared 340 million cubic feet, or 30 percent, of the 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas produced per day in January, about twice as much as the 184 million cubic feet burned per day two years ago.”
In some area it’s much more. At the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation tribal members say as much as 70 percent of gas from wells on the reservation is flared.
The Bloomberg article says North Dakota flares off natural gas on “a level equal to Russia”. Besides being an incredible waste it’s adds to the greenhouse in two ways. Not only is the CO2/methane added t the air itself bad, but the burning creates black carbon which drifts and actually melts glaciers.
What about the law, you say? Well in North Dakota energy companies can flare for a year without paying taxes or royalties. That’s twice as long as they give in supposedly anything-goes Texas. In Texas only 1% of the gas is flared off.
Why are they wasting the valuable gas you might ask? The article explains that investors want their profits back pronto. “If we drill a $10 million well, we’ve got lots of investors and they can’t wait to get that revenue back.” So no one waits for the pipelines to be built, they just flare.
In five years North Dakota oil production has gone up from 100,000 barrels a day to 700,000 barrels. The investors are having a field day, there are lots of jobs in the industry and housing prices have gone through the roof.
Not everyone is benefiting in North Dakota. Debbie Dogskin, a Standing Rock Sioux died of hypothermia in February. Her propane tank was empty. The temperature in her trailer was 1 degree, the same as the temperature outside.
And all the while the predictions of global climate catastrophe grow ever more grave.