Why is 47.93455, -103.27180 (eastern North Dakota, USA) bright at night?
January 14, 2023 6:11 PM   Subscribe

This light pollution map has a bright area that mystifies me. What's there? Google maps doesn't show any towns, just some... cylinders that look like power transformers or maybe water tanks? Could it be waste storage? Why would it emit light?

The light pollution map says it has a Bortle class of 8-9, which is described as "city sky" or "inner city sky". A super bright spot seems to be between the Missouri river and Watford City. Another one is close to "Hawkeye" North Dakota.

link to Google Maps location

Mining? Signal flares for aliens?
posted by amtho to Grab Bag (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
oil wells, burning off excess gas?
posted by slater at 6:20 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I did see a photo showing something that looked like that -- but would it be _that_ bright, over that much of an area? Did you look at the light pollution map?
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on January 14

Yeah, that’s prime oil drilling country.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:22 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I'm no expert but that looks like oil rigs to me.
posted by aniola at 6:22 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Cause, geez, what a waste of energy...
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Looks like there's no studies on light pollution and oil drilling as of 2015, but
Nighttime light propagation from oil and gas fields includes gas flares, vehicle headlights, and temporary disturbance from 24-hour drilling barracks. The level of light pollution in oil and gas fields varies greatly, depending on the amount of human activity and necessity for gas flaring.
posted by aniola at 6:28 PM on January 14

Response by poster: Fudge in a bucket
posted by amtho at 6:33 PM on January 14

You weren't this first to wonder this (it's fracking).
posted by coffeecat at 7:04 PM on January 14 [6 favorites]

Looks like that's also the case at Prudhoe Bay on the far northern coast of Alaska.
posted by hydra77 at 8:07 PM on January 14

As others have already pointed out, this is the Bakken formation.

There are similar areas elsewhere in North America that really show up on light pollution maps. In Texas that 200-mile-long arc of light south of San Antonio is the Eagle Ford shale and the big blob around Midland-Odessa (and stretching into SE New Mexico) is the Permian Basin. In Alberta around Fort McMurray and stretching southward along the border with Saskatchewan are the Athabasca oil sands. Also see all those lights from offshore platforms off the coast of Louisiana.
posted by theory at 8:07 PM on January 14 [4 favorites]

That area is considered western North Dakota, and yes, it's prime fracking country.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:08 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you. The linked article, from 2013, says, " For a year (with extensions), North Dakota allows drillers to burn gas, just let it flare.". Obviously it's been more than a year since that was written.

Fun fact: I also have trouble telling left from right.
posted by amtho at 8:17 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Gas flares are a pretty common, standard part of various fossil fuel production. They're used for certain emergency purposes and various other things. Not that this is good.
posted by lookoutbelow at 9:32 PM on January 14

Take a look at this satellite photo of the U.S. at night (ca. 2016 I believe).

That whole area shines like a beacon - nearly as bright as much bigger than some metro areas - for example, the Denver metro area, which is about due south of it.
posted by flug at 4:23 PM on January 15

Hi, I'm in North Dakota right now and have actually been to this area for work: Everyone is correct, fracking releases a lot of natural gas, and being hundreds of miles away from any way to process it, they just burn the gas.

It isn't like it's bright like city streetlights at night driving through the Bakken because there's gas fires everywhere -- the flaring only happens at specific spots, and generally away from where humans live, so the brightness is an average of obscenely dark North Dakota nights and pinpoints of really, really bright open flames.

Also -- they've been trying to reduce flaring, and it's less than half of what it used to be.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:49 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

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