North Dakota's oil boom isn't just about oil; a lot of natural gas comes out of the ground at the same time. But there's a problem with that: The state doesn't have the pipelines needed to transport all of that gas to market. There's also no place to store it. In many cases, drillers are simply burning it.
"People are estimating it's about $1 million a day just being thrown into the air," says Marcus Stewart, an energy analyst with Bentek Energy. Stewart tracks the amount of gas burned off — or flared — in the state, and his latest figures show that drillers are burning about 27 percent of the gas they produce.
While that percentage has been declining, Stewart says the overall amount of wasted gas is still rising as more oil wells are drilled.
"It's significant because we don't really see anything like that anywhere else in the country."
Part of the problem is the energy industry's focus. As drillers arrived to tap the riches of the Bakken shale formation under western North Dakota, they were looking for oil, not natural gas.
Now that they've found gas, it's taking time and money to build the pipelines and processing plants to use it. Meanwhile, infrastructure for the oil rush needs to be built, too, and oil prices are relatively high, while natural gas prices are really low. That means companies are investing in oil infrastructure first.