Methane and other gases are frequently flared from oil wells because it is cheaper to burn it off than to recover it – at least when the well is primarily producing oil. Flaring is also used while drilling new wells and at refineries to prevent an explosive buildup of gases. However, flaring is a dirty practice that wastes colossal amounts of energy (in North Dakota alone they burn off enough natural gas every day to heat 100,000 homes) and globally the practice adds as much CO2 to the atmosphere every year as 77 million automobiles. Flaring can also pollute the air with the known carcinogens like BTEX and could aerosolize a toxic stew of undisclosed fracking fluids.
This tool shows a heatmap of nightly, infrared satellite detections of natural gas flaring across the entire planet, as seen by the VIIRS instrument aboard NOAA’s Suomi NPP satellite.