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You Can See the North Dakota Shale Boom From Space

If the famous NASA composite image “Earth at Night” adorned your wall for a few years, you’re pretty familiar with the distribution of human-made light across the world. And if it wasn’t on your wall—a mistake, by the way—you’ve probably seen enough of the “Earth at night” images, like the one showing a dark North and bright South Korea, to get a sense of what to expect.

So I was surprised and, well, disgusted at the most recent “Earth at Night” composite image of the United States. Check out the huge patch of light in the upper Midwest, the one that's larger than just about all of the major American metropolitan areas.


Over just a few short years, the shale boom has turned western North Dakota into a self-inflicted bruise visible from space, a blight on the continent—phrases previously reserved for the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Here’s the same picture from 2000—the same picture that was on my wall. No Bakken oil field.

And here’s a zoomed-in shot, with Minneapolis-St. Paul in the lower right.