This is odd. Take a look at this map of America at night. As you’d expect, the cities are ablaze, the Great Lakes and the oceans dark, but if you look at the center, where the Eastern lights give way to the empty Western plains, there’s a mysterious clump of light there that makes me wonder.
It’s a little to the left, high up near the Canadian border. Just run your eye up that line of lights at the center of the country, look over to the upper left: There’s a patch that looks like a big city — but there is no big city in that part of North Dakota. There’s mostly grass. So what are those lights doing there? What is that?
If you need help, here’s the same map again; this time, the patch is marked with a circle. It turns out, yes, that’s not a city. And those lights weren’t there six years ago.
What we have here is an immense and startlingly new oil and gas field — nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, or fiery flares of natural gas. One hundred fifty oil companies, big ones, little ones, wildcatters, have flooded this region, drilling up to eight new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day — double the output two years ago — so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire … to a disturbing degree. Literally.
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.
( via npr.org )