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Monday, July 29, 2013

'Skies Roast' Above North Dakota as Natural Gas Flaring on the Rise

 Yearly greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to adding 'one million cars on the road'
Natural gas flares burning above North Dakota's Bakken oil fields can be seen from space. (Photo: NASA Earth Observatory/ NOAA NGDC 2012)

"Bright torches of natural gas are to become an ever-more common sight along the horizon of North Dakota as the environmentally devastating practice of flaring, or burning off natural gas as a byproduct of oil production, continues to skyrocket, according to a report released Monday by sustainability research group Ceres.  Analyzing oil and gas production data on the Bakken oil fields, researchers estimate that the volume of flared gas "more than doubled between May 2011 and May 2013," and in 2012 alone, the greenhouse gases emitted from flared wells was equivalent to "adding nearly one million cars to the road." Further, as report authors Ryan Salmon and Andrew Logan note, because the flares only partially combust the natural gas, "a variety of other hazardous pollutants are generated by the process, including black carbon, another potent driver of climate change with adverse health effects."

Though the report focuses on the great economic waste—an estimated $3.6m in fuel lost each day, or $100m a month—of this practice, the impact on the environment is undeniable. Further, one cannot help but compare this dramatic squandering of fuel to the untold environmental toll that natural gas extraction processes, particularly fracking, are taking elsewhere in the United States. The latest data shows that the state’s oil and gas developers flared (e.g., threw away, spewed into the atmosphere, lost) 29 percent of the natural gas they produced during May 2013."