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.
- Use the aperture tool on the right side of the map to choose whether to view individual detections, one day at a time, or a composite of all detections over multiple days (up to 29 days).
- When viewing the multi-day composite, the map displays all the flares detected on the date displayed, and detections from all the preceding __ days you have selected. Use to single-day view to see if there was a flare detected on a specific date, and the multi-day composite to see how frequent flares were over a few weeks or a month.
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.
Applications for this map include:
- Demonstrating the tremendous amount of natural gas flaring around the world.
- Learning if flaring is a chronic problem in your community or places you care about.
- Tracking active drilling in gas-producing regions where flaring occurs only during the drilling and completion of wells.
- Verifying when petrochemical facilities were flaring in order to aid identifying the source of noxious air emissions polluting fence-line communities.
- Holding companies accountable for wasting public and private resources through routine flaring.
- Informing public health research on the impacts of flaring on respiratory health and other disciplines.
- Let us know how you could use flaring detections to skytruth an issue in your community or speciality.
Verified on the ground by a team we sent out North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and further cross-referenced against aerial and satellite imagery of other flaring hotspots such as Russia, Africa, and the Middle East, this map is updated daily to show the frequency of infrared detections hot enough to be gas flares.
About the Data
The data for this map is provided by NOAA’s Earth Observation Group. In this paper, they describe the nightfire algorithm that detects hot sources from the VIIRS instrument. SkyTruth starts with this data and then cleanses, clusters and highlights to produce the visualization seen in the flaring map, giving the original dataset a new power. (NOAA’s EOG has written a second paper detailing how they estimate flaring volume.)
Here are a few things to know about what SkyTruth does to processes and present the data:
- We eliminate detections under 1,500º C to remove “cooler” heat sources like forest fires.
- The VIIRS instrument gets one look per night at any given point on the planet.
- The data are limited in the extreme northern and southern latitudes due to continuous sunshine and atmospheric noise.
- In order to eliminate noise and false detections in the temperate and tropical regions, we filter out detections from locations that have only had 1 or 2 detections in 30 days prior to date displayed. For all detections where there are ≥3 detections in the previous 30 days, we display each detection on the day it was recorded.
- Detections <926m from each other are adjusted to an spatial average of all detections in the previous 30 days to smooth out the coarse ~750m resolution of the sensor.
- There was no data available from NOAA between Sept. 29- Oct. 16, 2013.
- January 3, 2018 note: Starting in December, 2017, the VIIRS instrument started to collect nightfire data on an additional band. This results in many more temperature determinations, which you may see reflected in the timeline.
If you don’t see a flaring detection you expected to see, consider one the above caveats. Some flares don’t burn hot enough to be included in our dataset, they may not have been burning when the satellite passed overhead, the flare may not be frequent enough to make it past the 3 detection threshold, heavy clouds have obscured the flare from the sensor, etc.
Want to get the data for yourself? Download it here – SkyTruth Global Flaring Dataset