Watch Six Months of Fracking Fires Blaze Across the Country

Clare Foran and Stephanie Stamm
Aug. 22, 2014, 4:05 a.m.

Massive fires light up the sky in U.S. states at the cen­ter of a frack­ing boom.

The fires — known as flar­ing — are a symp­tom of the rap­id spread of the con­tro­ver­sial drilling tech­nique. Cit­ies and towns across the coun­try are scram­bling to keep up with a new­found sur­plus of nat­ur­al gas, and tower­ing flames arise when ex­cess gas is burned off at drill sites. 

Now, one en­vir­on­ment­ally minded or­gan­iz­a­tion has cre­ated a tool to track where the fires are tak­ing place. The heat map be­low — cre­ated by the non­profit SkyTruth — shows a time-lapse of flar­ing across the U.S. over a six-month peri­od from March to Au­gust. 

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Most of the flar­ing on U.S. soil cur­rently takes place in North Dakota and Texas due to oil and gas drilling op­er­a­tions in the Bakken and Eagle Ford shale form­a­tions, re­spect­ively. Wide­spread flar­ing also crops up in Pennsylvania, where en­ergy com­pan­ies ex­tract a huge amount of nat­ur­al gas from the Mar­cel­lus Shale. 

Fossil fuel pro­du­cers say flar­ing is nearly im­possible to avoid, be­cause the in­fra­struc­ture needed to trans­port gas and oil is severely lack­ing in many states so they are forced to burn off the over­flow. But green groups warn that the fires re­lease green­house gases and waste en­ergy.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port by en­vir­on­ment­al ad­vocacy group Earth­works re­leased Fri­day, flar­ing has dra­mat­ic­ally in­creased in both the Bakken and Eagle Ford shale in re­cent years.

“In 2010, oil and nat­ur­al gas wells in the Bakken flared about 18 bil­lion cu­bic feet of gas. In 2013, they flared 96 bil­lion cu­bic feet, al­most all of it from oil wells,” the re­port states. 

Texas, mean­while, flared 2 bil­lion cu­bic feet of gas from oil and nat­ur­al-gas wells in the Eagle Ford in 2010. In 2013, 34 bil­lion cu­bic feet of gas had been flared. 

For the sake of con­text: “The amount of gas flared is so large, es­pe­cially in the Bakken, that it com­pares fa­vor­ably with the volume of gas pro­duced for use from shale gas form­a­tions in oth­er states,” the au­thors note. 

SkyTruth cre­ated the visu­al­iz­a­tion us­ing satel­lite data col­lec­ted by the Na­tion­al Ocean­ic and At­mo­spher­ic Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The GIF above ad­vances in 10-day in­ter­vals start­ing on March 17 and end­ing on Aug. 20, us­ing 29-day com­pos­ite data from de­tec­ted flares.  

To view the map with real-time up­dates and see flar­ing in both the U.S. and the rest of the world, click here.