Astounding Reason North Dakota Is Lit Up So Brightly You Can See it From Space

Photo Credit: James William Gibson

This article was published in partnership with

I’ve been told by people living near fracking operations that the lights coming from the rigs are so bright they have trouble sleeping at night. They aren’t exaggerating. A photo from the NASA Earth Observatory shows a view of the U.S at night – the brightest spots that glow on the map come from big cities. The Plains states and the West are the darkest, with small spots of light scatter between darkness. 

Except, oddly enough, there’s a big glow out in North Dakota – a state with no cities sizable enough to create that much light. Robert Krulwich writes for NPR:

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. 

You can read the rest Krulwich’s blog post and see the photos here.

A story by James William Gibson in Earth Island Journal details how some Native American communities aren’t pleased with the no new boom. He writes, that: 

… little oil money reaches most of the reservation. According to activists Walter and Lisa Deville and Theodora Bird Bear, lifelong residents of the reservation town of Mandaree, none of the oil money collected by either the tribe or the state of North Dakota comes back to their town. Mandaree is mostly poor: two-thirds of the population lives three families to a house. Earlier this year, the Devilles and Bird Bear did a survey of Mandaree residents to gauge their views on the oil boom. Of those they questioned, 84 percent said they do not receive adequate information on environmental impacts to air, water quality and land; 92 percent said they fear drilling-related spills.

Oil production is starting to displace the tribal culture based around agriculture and grazing livestock. 

In another story Gibson writes about another impact of fracking in North Dakota – crime: 

Most of the roughnecks and roustabouts who have to the prairies of North Dakota are, no doubt, honest fellows who are just looking to make an honest dollar. But there are also some tougher characters in the lot. Crime statistics from Williston, ND – a town of about 16,000 that is at the center of the fracking boom – illustrate the problem. Between 2008 and 2009, the town experienced a sharp increase in reported crimes. The Williston Police Department says that calls to 911 skyrocketed in 2011. Also last year, a pharmacy in town was robbed of $16,000 in narcotics. And in early 2012 people in the region where horrified by two oilworkers’ kidnapping and murder of a woman in nearby Montana, about 45 miles from Williston.

Between 2010 and 2011, there was a 16.1 percent increase in violent crime and a 10.3 percent increase in property crime statewide. The increase in crime has been driven, in part, by higher crime rates in the state’s western counties where the shale oil fracking is occurring.