Map showing light pollution caused by some of the highest-producing oil and gas operations in the U.S. Graphic: Center for Biological Diversity

By Dipika Kadaba
21 May 2018

(The Revelator) – Humans increasingly live in a world of constant artificial lighting — so much so that it’s easy to forget about the environmental consequences of light pollution. “Light is a symbol of urbanity that changes the experience of any landscape from a human perspective,” says Travis Longcore, co-editor of the landmark book Ecological Consequences of Artificial Lighting, “but it alters the landscape for wildlife in ways that’s really hard for humans to imagine.”

For birds the consequences of light pollution can be deadly. The loss of features normally visible in an unobstructed night sky, along with the attraction of artificial lights, often throws birds off their migration paths. Some have been known to fruitlessly circle bright natural-gas flares, unable to navigate away from the light and as a result lose close to half of their body weight in one night. Artificial light can also degrade habitat quality and disrupt predator-prey relationships.

These problems aren’t limited to big cities — massive oil and gas development projects, often located far from populated areas, are incredibly bright affairs that produce light pollution on a scale few people realize. The infrastructure built up around these sites is well-lit for navigation, while excess natural gas that’s unprofitable to transport is burned off on-site. This can turn an underground petroleum deposit into a blazing field of fire on the surface.

How bad is the problem of gas flaring? We mapped the light pollution caused by some of the highest-producing oil and gas operations in the country.

In addition to the brightest hubs of light, the less intensely developed areas of oil and gas sites can sprawl across multiple counties – and while they are less bright than cities, they still have significant ecological impacts for birds.

Is there a solution to this problem? Sure. Longcore says, “the best way to remove these impacts is to avoid development of energy systems in wildlands.” That would help make sure that dark night skies remain available for birds and other species that depend on them.

Coming soon: Just how bad has light pollution gotten in your area? We’ll show you — right down to your zip code. [more]

Blinded by the Light Pollution

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