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What the shale oil craze looks like from space, and why it matters Add to ...

These are stories Report on Business is following Monday, Jan. 28, 2013.

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Shale boom at night
To get a true sense of the boom in shale oil production, take a look today at a stunning image from NASA.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has released a nighttime image of drilling, notably in North Dakota’s Bakken shale region, captured Nov. 12 by satellite with what’s known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, which, the agency says, gathers visible and infrared imagery, along with radiometric measurements of the earth being scanned.

“Northwestern North Dakota is one of the least-densely populated parts of the United States,” NASA says.

“Cities and people are scarce, but satellite imagery shows the area has been aglow at night in recent years,” it adds on its website.

“The reason: the area is home to the Bakken shale formation, a site where gas and oil production are booming … Most of the bright specks are lights associated with drilling equipment and temporary housing near drilling sites, though a few are evidence of gas flaring.”

(For the NASA imagery, see the accompanying infographic or click here and here.)

Shale development has been booming, and remaking America’s energy needs in the process.

Along with that, though, are huge environmental fears, including concerns over flaring the gas that's the byproduct of oil development.

According to The Financial Times, which reports on the NASA images, the U.S. producers behind the boom are flaring, or simply burning off, enough excess gas to provide power to all of the residences in Washington and Chicago.

Flaring in North Dakota, the news organization says, climbed some 50 per cent last year. This is not restricted to that state, however.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, production of natural gas has more than doubled in North Dakota since 2005, primarily because of the Bakken formation.

Indeed, average production surged to more than 485 million cubic feet a day by September of 20122 from the 160 million averaged in 2005.

“However, due to insufficient natural gas pipeline capacity and processing facilities in the Bakken shale region, over 35 per cent of North Dakota's natural gas production so far in 2011 has been flared or otherwise not marketed,” the IEA says on its website.

“(It is generally better to flare natural gas than to vent it into the atmosphere because natural gas – methane - is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide),” it adds.

Still, as The Financial Times notes, there are widespread concerns over flaring, not only because it wastes natural gas but also related to greenhouse gas and pollution.

“The percentage of flared gas in North Dakota is considerably higher than the national average; in 2009, less than 1 per cent of natural gas produced in the United States was vented or flared,” the IEA says.

Rich account for more
Canada’s top 1 per cent now represent 10.6 per cent of the country’s income, according to the latest measure.

That’s down from 12.6 per cent from a peak in 2006, Statistics Canada reports today, but well up from the 7 per cent of the early 1980s.

Statistics Canada released its look at the top 25.5 million of the tax filers in the country, from 1982 to 2010, whose portion of total income has climbed steadily.

To make it into the top 1 per cent, the agency says, one must bring in $201,400, or some 37 per cent more than the $147,500 of 1982, when it started tracking such data, The Globe and Mail's Tavia Grant reports.

The numbers illustrate the concerns of the “Occupy” movement, and those of young Canadians, who have been saddled with underemployment and unemployment in the wake of the recession, particularly because the top incomes have become “increasingly dependent” on jobs, rather than investments.

“The income gap between the top 1 per cent and the rest of filers has widened over time,” said Statistics Canada.

“In 1982, the median income of the top 1 per cent of filers was $191,600,” it added.

“This was seven times higher than the median income of $28,000 for the other 99 per cent of filers. By 2012, the median income of the top 1 per cent of filers increased to $283,400, about 10 times higher than the median income of $28,400 for the rest.”

The top group’s share of federal and provincial taxes has also increased, to 21.2 per cent in 2010 from 13.4 per cent in the early 1980s, while that of the rest of us fell.

Only a minority of the group fits the stereotype of Bay Street bankers. The rest are also doctors, dentists, senior managers and veterinarians, a study last year by a group of University of British Columbia economics professors found. They tend to have university degrees, and half of them work more than 50 hours a week

Moody's downgrades Canadian banks
Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the long-term ratings of six Canadian financial institutions, citing concerns over high levels of consumer debt and the risks of a drop in housing prices, The Globe and Mail's Grant Robertson reports.

The bond-rating agency said today it was downgrading the six financial institutions by one notch, including Toronto-Dominion Bank, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, National Bank of Canada, and Caisse Centrale Desjardins.

The ratings downgrades mostly mean that the banks drop from the highest grade, or near the top, to the next level below.

CRTC proposes code for carriers
Canada’s telecom regulator wants consumers to be able to unlock their smartphones at “reasonable terms” and carriers to provide clarity on fees.

Unveiling a draft code for wireless services today, and seeking consumer input before a public hearing next month, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission also proposes a ceiling on extra fees such as those for long-distance calls, going over allotted minutes, texting and surfing the web.

“The draft code is still very much a work in progress and intended to encourage more discussion," said CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais.

Toyota No. 1 again
Toyota Motor Corp. is back on top.

The Japanese auto giant today released numbers illustrating its rebound from its massive recall and the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami, and how it has topped General Motors Co. in the race for the No. 1 spot in sales.

Global sales climbed 22.6 per cent in 2012 to 9.75 million, while production rose 26.1 per cent to 9.9 million. Of the total, 7.3 million were sold outside Japan.

Notable, too, is that production outside the country surged 25.5 per cent to 5.49 million.

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