For the past year, our satellite monitoring of infrared data from around the world has detected immense amounts of light and heat coming from natural gas flares in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. A recent study concluded that 30 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is being wasted by a process called flaring, and the carbon dioxide emissions alone are equivalent to the annual emissions of 1 million automobiles.
This does not even touch the unknown air quality impacts from burning fracked gas in large, open flames at ground-level. To study this issue further, we are teaming up with a non-profit called Space For All to send cameras and instruments on a weather-balloon to the edge of space—well, the upper tropopause—to examine air quality and infrared emissions from oil shale fracking and flaring.
But what is flaring and why is it an issue? Flaring is the practice of burning off natural gas to dispose of it, primarily this happens right after a well is put into production or when other methods of using the gas are more expensive to implement than its market value. Operators do not want methane (the primary hydrocarbon in natural gas) accumulating on their wellpads where it can explode, and burning it off is slightly less harmful to the climate than venting it directly to the atmosphere.
But there is so much flaring going on that the fields around Williston, ND, positively glow, and there is limited information on other air quality impacts from flaring all of this gas produced as a by-product from fracking for oil. Help us Skytruth the Bakken to find out what is really going on …
Flaring and rig lights in the Bakken Shale are clearly visible, but we want to better understand the difference between flaring and use this data to better detect wasteful flaring around the globe.
With your help, we are planning to go to North Dakota to groundtruth satellite detections of flaring, and launch cameras and air quality instruments to the edge of space, tethered to a high-altitude balloon rig. We will combine our ground observations with detections from the balloon rig, and compare that to satellite data to measure the amount of natural gas flaring there. This will help us test the accuracy of our satellite-based flaring detections so we can do a better job of monitoring environmentally damaging (and unnecessarily wasteful) flaring that happens in the Bakken and around the world. The more good data we can collect, the more we can help groups that are working to reduce and eliminate it.