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See The Burn: New Map Shows Flaring In Your State

Jim Hill
A well site flares outside of Longmont, Colo., in Weld County, June 2014.

Flaring – the practice of burning natural gas, often when it's produced as a byproduct of oil drilling – has come under scrutiny in recent years. In part this is because new oil plays are resulting in a lot of gas being flared off.

A new map released by the group SkyTruth uses U.S. satellite data to show flaring in the United States You can see flaring between March and August 2014, and zoom in and out to see flaring in specific locations.

Flaring in the North Dakota Bakken leaps right out, as does the Eagle Ford south of San Antonio, Texas. In Colorado, there’s flaring activity, but not to the degree you see in other boom regions. A few hotspots show up east of Denver, in Garfield County and in Weld.

The satellite information comes from an infrared sensor on a polar orbiting satellite called Suomi NPP that can sense heat. The satellite gets one look per night over the planet.

A new report [.pdf] by the environmental group Earthworks found that $854 million worth of natural gas has been burned as waste in North Dakota's Bakken shale play since 2010. Each day, the report says, enough gas is burned off to heat 100,000 homes.

Gas gets flared in large part because systems to collect and transport it do not exist, and with low natural gas prices or a lack of government regulations on flaring, it often makes more economic sense for companies to flare the gas than to capture it. Colorado's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission also regulates flaring, and the state requires notice and approval for flares, as well as requiring a "maximum reduction of air contaminants."  In the state's Denver-Julesberg basin, infrastructure does exist for midstream companies to capture natural gas from oil wells, so flaring does not typically happen for longer than 48 hours.

The flaring has consequences, though. Burning methane, or natural gas, releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. It can also result in air pollution. The report calls for more stringent regulations on flaring in states like North Dakota and Texas, where the practice is widespread.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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