The Bakken from space

There’s a really cool time-lapse video from the International Space Station bouncing around the interwebs right now. Watch and you’ll see dramatic images of the Northern Lights and a string of lightning storms as the space station swirls around the earth.

Being a bit of a geography buff, though, I can’t help but try to figure out specific locations based on the lights of different cities. And as the video sweeps across North America, I noticed a couple of “cities” that won’t appear on any maps.

For instance, over Alberta, we can clearly see the oil sands near Fort McMurray:

But then as the video sweeps toward the east, at about 0:34 another strange, enormous “city” appears in the middle of nowhere.

What could it be? Billings? Saskatoon? The parking lot of the Super K-Mart in Glendive?

As we move further east, more familiar locations appear, revealing our mystery “city.” It’s the lights from the Bakken oil field in North Dakota (and probably a fair amount of natural gas flares as well).

There have been numerous stories about the scope and impact of oil development in North Dakota. But none put it in quite such stark terms as this image.

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