Massive Fracking Burnoff Can Be Seen From Outer Space
Robert Krulwicht from the National Public Radio (NPR) reported a couple of days ago that he had noticed a mysterious new light (see the circle on the map above) on a Satellite/NASA Earth Observatory map of the U.S. near the U.S. Canadian border in an area that is largely uninhabited grassland. The reporter discovered that the source of the light is the 15,000 square mile Bakken shale field that produces oil and natural gas by fracking. The region has been developed over the past four years and over the next ten years is expected to expand ten-fold.
The light is caused by flaring off 29 percent of the natural gas being extracted by 150 oil companies drilling an average of eight new wells per day. The area is producing 660,000 barrels of oil per day which has allowed North Dakota to surpass Alaska in oil production. It now ranks second to Texas among the 50 states.
Fracking involving injecting sand, water and chemicals two miles deep into the Earth’s surface at high pressures which forces the oil to the surface which experts believe causes water sources, including rivers and underground aquifers to become polluted with radium and poisonous chemicals such as benezene as well as other cancer-causing chemicals.
According to the New York Times, more than 100 million cubic feet of natural gas is flared away each day — enough energy to heat half a million homes. The explanation for the massive gas burnoff is that it’s not as profitable as recapturing the natural gas even though a slightly more expensive technology exists to convert the burnoff to fuel ( also see government assessment ). The burnoff is equivalent to 30% of the total U.S. natural gas production.
The current levels of burning gas inject two million tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year. The World Bank estimates that the Bakken field produces the same amount of global warming pollution as 2.5 million cars. In addition, the flaring also produce carbon monoxide pollution. Carbon Oxide (CO) can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body’s organs (like the heart and brain) and tissues. According to health experts, exposure to CO can reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. People with several types of heart disease already have a reduced capacity for pumping oxygenated blood to the heart, which can cause them to experience myocardial ischemia (reduced oxygen to the heart), often accompanied by chest pain (angina), when exercising or under increased stress. For these people, short-term CO exposure further affects their body’s already compromised ability to respond to the increased oxygen demands of exercise or exertion.
The burnoff also produces short-term NO2 and SO2 exposures, ranging from 30 minutes to 24 hours, with adverse respiratory effects including airway inflammation in healthy people and increased respiratory symptoms in people with asthma. Also, studies show a connection between breathing elevated short-term concentrations of NO2 or SO2, and increased visits to emergency departments and hospital admissions for respiratory issues, especially asthma.
SOx and NOx react with ammonia, moisture, and other compounds to form small particles. These small particles penetrate deeply into sensitive parts of the lungs and can cause or worsen respiratory disease, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and can aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospital admissions and premature death.
Ozone is formed when SOx and NOx and volatile organic compounds react in the presence of heat and sunlight. Children, the elderly, people with lung diseases such as asthma, and people who work or exercise outside are at risk for adverse effects from ozone. These include reduction in lung function and increased respiratory symptoms as well as respiratory-related emergency department visits, hospital admissions, and possibly premature deaths.
Despite a public outcry that is supported by the majority of Americans, there are no current federal regulations on gas flaring although a new rule is scheduled to go into effect in 2015. However, that rule only requires flaring as opposed to simply allowing the methane to escape which causes even more pollution.
The lack of regulation is a new phenomena. In the 1970s, the government required oil companies to re-inject the gas into the ground. With a $45 dollar per cubic ton carbon dioxide tax as some has suggested, that would bring the government $90 million new dollars in new tax revenues per year that could help pay for programs that could help compensate the victims of the increase pollution.
There are also concerns that fracking is not a feasible alternative to oil and that it has been over-hyped as a means to reduce climate change, particularly when the process still produces a considerable amount of pollution (see table below).
Fossil Fuel Emission Levels – Pounds per Billion Btu of Energy Input
Pollutant Natural Gas Oil Coal Carbon Dioxide 117,000 164,000 208,000 Carbon Monoxide 40 33 208 Nitrogen Oxides 92 448 457 Sulfur Dioxide 1 1,122 2,591 Particulates 7 84 2,744 Mercury 0.000 0.007 0.016
Source: EIA – Natural Gas Issues and Trends 1998
by Todd Miller
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