Looking down from the International Space Station, those lights are the North Dakota oil fields.
In this recent, NASA-produced round-the-world satellite photo nighttime tour of the Earth, you can clearly see the Dakota fields blazing in the grasslands as North America rolls by. No wonder locals are calling North Dakota "Kuwait on the Prairie."
On the other hand, says Peter Lehner, blogger for the Natural Resources Defense Council, every day drillers in North Dakota "burn off enough gas to heat half a million homes." North Dakota law says that flares are subject to taxes and royalties after one year, even if the gas isn't being sold. But critics suspect that the state keeps granting exceptions. And state regulators seem less than energetic when farmers call to complain about poisons in the air and water. Many farmers in North Dakota can't prevent drillers from drilling — even if they'd like to. Decades ago, the rights to the minerals below those farms were separated from the rights to the land itself — which is why today, energy companies can move in, create drilling pads where they please, move in trucks and workers, without the farmers' consent. In some places, North Dakota feels like Texas in the early 20th century, when cattlemen fought the oil men. This time it's corn folks versus oil folks. Tempers are rising. Gas is burning. Drillers are drilling.