Space images lets you see burning oil fields around the world and close to home

In another example of how professional space data lets the public make the world a better place, SkyTruth’s Global Flaring Visualization project maps the full extent of the oil industry’s natural gas flaring operations.

Natural gas flaring from a North Dakota drilling site. Credit: D. Manthos, SkyTruth

Natural gas flaring from a North Dakota drilling site.
Credit: D. Manthos, SkyTruth

Oil wells don’t just pump oil out of the ground - they also extract a huge amount of natural gas. Unfortunately, the oil industry finds its easier and cheaper to burn this gas rather than capture it for sale. The fires create pollution and enormous amounts of carbon dioxide that add to human industry’s contribution to global climate change. But this isn’t just another story of conflict between [select one: guardians of the environment / leftist commie environmentalists] and [select one: entrepreneurial wealth-generators / heartless world-destroying capitalists].

As this CNBC report explains, flaring is an economic waste that burns away $100,000,000 worth of natural gas every month in North Dakota’s Bakken Shales alone. That adds up to millions of dollars of lost royalty fees and taxes every year. In response to pressure from the public and businesses, North Dakota became the latest state to rein in the practice.

Natural gas flaring at a North Dakota drilling site captured from a high-altitude balloon. Credit: SkyTruth

Natural gas flaring at a North Dakota drilling site captured from a high-altitude balloon. Credit: SkyTruth

SkyTruth was founded in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizons oil spill to enlist the public in documenting the effects of pollution. It has created several crowdsourcing projects that document the extent of fracking, oil spills, mining, and other pollution-generating industries.

SkyTruth and Space for All launched a crowdfunded near space mission over the Bakken Shales in 2013. The student-run, non-profit Space for All flies scientific, educational, and commercial high-altitude balloon missions to fund science education programs. The Bakken Shales mission collected almost 20 gigabytes of video, images, and sensor data to evaluate the effect of flaring on the environment.

Now Skytruth is turning to space-based imagery to let everyone see how widespread flaring truly is. The US government’s open data policy gives the public full access to the data collected by taxpayer-funded space missions including the joint Nasa/Noaa remote sensing satellite, Suomi NPP. SkyTruth processes the data collected every night and merges it with Google Maps to identify flaring activity around the world. This video explains how you can use the Global Flaring Visualization to identify how close to home and how ofter flaring occurs.

SkyTruth’s Chief Technology Officer, Paul Woods, said “Hopefully, enabling everyone to see where, when, and how often operators are flaring will create public pressure on government and industry to reduce the waste of this hard-won natural resource.”

To see how other people are using satellite imagery to make the world a better place, take a look at these articles: