The project consolidates emerging flows of waste carbon dioxide to propose new models of sequestration and energy-based tourism.
The process of hydraulic fracturing, in addition to oil and natural gas extraction in general, can have a very dramatic effect on the landscape. In order to carry out the process, large swaths of land must be cleared in order to place all of the necessary infrastructure at the extraction site, as well as to create roadways that will allow vehicular access to these sites. While a single extraction site may not produce much change to the landscape, oil and natural gas companies often carry out these operations on an immense scale in order to extract the most resources possible from an area. This type of operation leads to a territory that becomes scarred by the processes of heavy extraction that frequently lasts for decades into the future. In an ironic twist, the massive amount of infrastructure used during the extraction process is highly transient and will only be there for a few months at most, and once all of the oil and natural gas has been extracted from a well, the site will become abandoned. Because of the intensity of energy put into clearing and preparing the site for extraction, it seems wasteful to simply let these sites disappear once their original lifespan ends. Is there a way to reutilize the sites and infrastructures created by the oil and natural gas companies rather than just letting them be forgotten?
Projects for re-purposing empty and abandoned oil wells are beginning to become of interest. Some are proposing that these wells should be used for geothermal energy because of the extreme depth that many of these wells travel. Others, such as Denbury Resources Inc., propose flooding the wells with carbon dioxide, as this process is able to release additional amounts of oil and natural gas that were previously inaccessible. In order to achieve this, carbon dioxide is captured from factories and is carried via pipeline to individual wells where the carbon dioxide enters the ground. This process would essentially create an additional infrastructural component that will become a permanent part of the extraction site, along with the original well. But again, the question arises of what will happen to the extraction site once the oil and natural gas is once again depleted. This project seeks to capitalize on the landscape and infrastructures created by these companies in an attempt to create a new future for this landscape beyond extraction.
The site chosen for this project is near and around Baker, Montana. Not only is the town itself just a few miles away from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, it sits immediately next to a landscape that has been home to oil and natural gas extraction processes since the early 1900s. The scale of this extraction landscape is immense and its meandering paths in the land lie in complete contrast to the highly organized grid of streets in the town. Typically, these scarred landscapes are located many miles away from high populations, so to have these two conditions right next to each brings up opportunities for a future relationship between the town and the scarred landscape. Denbury Resources Inc. is also purchasing many of the abandoned and empty wells in this landscape. Currently, they have a contract with the Lost Cabin Gas Plant in Wyoming to take its carbon dioxide emissions and use them in its operations. They are also constructing a carbon dioxide pipeline that will reach Baker, Montana around 2017.
As other empty oil and natural gas fields in the United States may begin using carbon dioxide as a means of tertiary extraction in the future, this pipeline infrastructure that needs to be constructed could remain in use after the extraction processes have been completed again as a part of a carbon dioxide economy. While the topic of sequestering carbon dioxide underground has gained more attention, a more viable future scenario may be one where carbon dioxide is recycled and repurposed. Currently, many researchers are finding new and unique ways of using carbon dioxide as a catalyst for certain processes. These vary from using carbon dioxide to help grow algae that can be turned into a biofuel, as a major gas in the carbonation of beverages, and as a component for renewable methanol. Carbon dioxide clearly has a future as a commodity, so it can be traded utilizing this carbon dioxide infrastructure that would already be in place.
The landscape around Baker would be reorganized based on three well typologies: injection wells, natural gas wells, and oil wells. Injection wells are the sites where carbon dioxide would be used to extract additional petroleum. Natural gas wells and oil wells are nearly identical except that oil wells have a greater depth. The injection wells and natural gas wells would function as the areas where carbon dioxide can be stored and traded among different parties that wish to either have a place to dump their emissions or have access to this banked resource.
The injection wells are connected directly to this regional and nationwide network of carbon dioxide pipelines and they would be able to store carbon dioxide in the various natural gas wells that are connected to it. Oil wells would become locations for carbon dioxide recycling and repurposing centers where carbon dioxide can be directly converted to another use on the same landscape. These centers can use the great depth of the oil wells to extract heat and geothermally generated electricity from the Earth. An eco-tourism component would also be incorporated at these centers as a way for tourists to explore this previously off-limits landscape as well as allowing Baker to become a central hub for this new tourism industry. This scarred landscape condition is a unique side effect of the petroleum extraction process and is something that could influence the future development of post-oil towns.