No cities are in the vicinity and the bright spot didn’t exist six years ago
When NASA revealed its stunning new images of the Earth at night – or the Black Marble, as some referred to the darkened planet – one NPR correspondent noticed something unusual: a mysterious mass of lights in North Dakota near the Canadian border. The sighting was surprising for a few reasons. First, there are no large cities in the region that would cause the phenomenon, and second, the lights didn’t exist in that same spot six years ago. So how to explain them?
Far below the Earth’s surface in this once-desolate region lie vast oil deposits, which in recent years have been captured by fracking, a process that fractures rocks below the surface to release the oil. With this innovation, oil fields have sprung up in a remote corner of North Dakota, along with hundreds of requisite oil rigs – and their bright lights.
Still, oil rig lights are not the sole cause of the mass of lights in the NASA image. As oil is being captured by fracking, less valuable gas is also released. Rather than capturing all of the gas, oil companies are letting nearly a third of it burn – creating brights bursts of flames, or as we see in the image, an additional surge of light, according to the NPR post.