October 14, 2017

The drilling fields of west Texas, the Bakken in North Dakota, or even the refinery-filled suburbs of east Houston at night, resemble something like a parking-lot carnival spread out for miles. And that means problems for everyone from observatories to amateur stargazers due to light pollution. That’s what sparked a group of astronomers at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of west Texas to create what they call the Dark Skies Initiative (DSI).
Much of the light generated from the nearby oil fields with thousands of rigs and other equipment such as light towers running 24/7 shines in all directions, when in fact, it really only needs to be pointed down to avoid lighting up a dark sky. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates that 80 percent of the American population have never seen the Milky Way due to the growing glow of artificial lights.
Light Tower Rentals (LTR), who provides portable and permanent lighting solutions for oil fields, in conjunction with several drilling companies, including Apache and Chevron, as well as the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, LTR is working with the McDonald Observatory. The aim is to educate the oil and gas industry about the Dark Sky Initiative, the problems associated with bright lights and the benefits of the solutions the Observatory offers for drillers.
But light pollution isn’t just a problem for the Observatories and other folks wanting to see stars. There are many other negative effects of light pollution:
• COSTS: In the United States $10s of billions annually in electricity costs are wasted shining lights upward at night. These numbers do not include the costs of harvesting fossil fuels to generate electricity.
• ENERGY CONSUMPTION: Most of the energy required to power all of the wasted light comes from burning fossil fuels, contributing to other types of pollution.
• HEALTH: New studies point to dramatic health consequences from the disruption of the natural human day/night cycle. Unnatural light at night affects hormone production and reduces the strength of the immune system.
• SAFETY: Vision is impaired by “glare” from overly bright light sources, reducing sensitivity to fine details and color perception, especially in elderly people. Brighter lights cause shadows to appear darker.
• THE ENVIRONMENT: Artificial light at night has been shown to disrupt the mating, migration, and hunting behaviors of many different species, and consequently the ecological community as a whole.
• LOSS OF NIGHTTIME SKY: The view of stars and dark night skies is rapidly being lost. Generations are growing up having never seen the Milky Way. Sky glow resulting from artificial lighting dramatically hinders the science of astronomy.
(Source: Mary Schimke / Energy Media Group – Image: RB/energy global news)