Photo by Wes Peck

Every day, oil companies burn 100 million cubic feet of natural gas — not to power anything, but just because it's not oil and they don't need it. According to The New York Times, the North Dakota landscape is full of will-o-the-wisp plumes of fire where natural gas is burning off. 

The burning of "waste" gas in North Dakota releases at least 2 million tons of CO2 every year, as much as a medium-sized coal power plant. And believe it or not, this isn't the worst option for what to do with this gas (though it isn't the best, either). Capturing and reselling it would be cleanest, but natural gas isn't expensive enough to provide a good economic incentive (which is the only kind of incentive that matters to oil companies). But burning it is at least better than venting it back into the air. In other words, oil drilling is so destructive that in the grand scheme of things, setting 100 million cubic feet of natural gas on fire qualifies as being environmentally conscious.

While natural gas companies frack up West Virginia and Pennsylvania in order to get the natural gas out, oil companies are destroying huge amounts of usable natural gas in increasing numbers of other states in order to extract the oil.

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All told, 30 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is burned as waste. No other major domestic oil field currently flares close to that much, though the practice is still common in countries like Russia, Nigeria and Iran.

With few government regulations that limit the flaring, more burning is also taking place in the Eagle Ford shale field in Texas, and some environmentalists and industry executives say that it could happen in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Ohio, too, as drilling expands in new fields there unlocked by techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

Can't you guys, like, put your heads together and come up with a plan? A plan that doesn't involve everything getting fucked forever?

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