The project proposes a regional chemical processing infrastructure which uses energy waste to limit the soft boundary between natural ecosystems and the encroachment of rural industry.
Through collaborative acts of civil disobedience, environmentalists around the United States have engaged in a tireless battle against TransCanada’s controversial proposed extension of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As Bill McKibben has recently proven in Washington D.C., many environmental activists are willing to risk arrest in order to make their voices heard. When passive protest doesn’t seem to have immediate results, activists serve on the “front lines” in order to resist the destruction of ecosystems across the United States. Rapidly-deployed ‘tree villages’ have been established among forest canopies in northern Texas in order to stop the pipeline’s advance. Serving as a physical blockade, members of these micro-communities risk their lives in order to protect the natural landscape from its perceived enemies.
In the contested Sand Hills landscape, petroleum-based institutions surround natural geological phenomena. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the most prominent sources of water in the United States. Covering more than seventy-five percent of land in Nebraska, the aquifer faces potential contamination when TransCanada gouges a trench into the sensitive earth surface.
In addition to the Keystone XL Pipeline, agricultural development has monopolized land use in Nebraska. The obsessive patternization of half-mile diameter circles created from the inscription of center-pivot irrigation systems has definitively transformed the territory surrounding the Sand Hills. The embodied energy within each inscription points directly to petroleum-based fertilizers, gas-guzzling machinery, and methane/carbon dioxide released from livestock raised on cattle farms. Solid waste in the rural landscape is comprised of mostly petroleum-based products. As transfer stations and landfills reach capacity, the potential for global warming is dramatically increased. The decomposition of trash produces large quantities of leachate which releases significant amounts of methane gas. Compared to the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, the GWP of methane is twenty-one times larger. This all points to a need for intervention.
Similar to the efforts of blockade, the project aims to articulate an Obstruction Belt surrounding the Sand Hills of Nebraska. This transitional element creates a buffer zone between encroaching petroleum institutions and the natural Sand Hills geology. Existing failed farm-plats, seen as extant incursions on the natural geology, are transformed into the belt.
Serving to obstruct further contamination while neutralizing the impact of regional petroleum-driven waste, an intricate path system is developed, forming new processes and experiences in this vital landscape. The ‘ribbon’ is comprised of a complex reconstruction and reorganization of the once center-pivot farm plot circle. Within the organization modular circles, programs supporting energy production, waste water remediation, aquifer recharge, observation, research/education, and eco-tourism are considered. Pockets for prototypical and conservation landscape are realized in spaced between surrounding packed circles.
Waste in the region is often discarded and left unconsidered for future opportunity. The project transforms this waste into new energy, providing new sources of power-generation. Varying waste systems are accounted for across specific nodal points within the Obstruction Belt.
O’Neill, Nebraska serves as the Methane energy headquarters along the Obstruction Belt. Large amounts of leachate and methane are released and captured by surrounding landfills and cattle farms. Once collected and contained within barrels, it is sent via railway, directly to the obstruction belt, where it is then distributed to the O’Neill methane production facility. Once at the methane intake station, the rail cars release unfiltered methane into a holding tank beneath the production building. The liquid is then filtered and pumped to the top of the tower where it is stored for energy production. Following filtration, the methane undergoes a conversion process involving combustion, steam, and the rotation of large turbine-powered generators. Output electrical energy is sent to a transformer and is then sold to the national grid for users across the country. Remaining waste water is pumped into a series of coagulation/aeration/filtration basins where it transforms into clean, potable water. This clean water is then sent to the water-injection facility where it can be re-introduced into the Ogallala Aquifer. This recharge is necessary for the sustaining Nebraska agriculture as it rapidly depletes aquifer levels in order to irrigate crops. All other waste water is sent to a bioswale where ecosystem services filter out hazardous toxins and passively recharge the aquifer.
Surrounding the energy infrastructure is an abundance of unique spaces. In parallel with energy production and remediation programs, a prototype cattle farm infrastructure is developed in adjacent spaces. Feed lots and open ranges are developed with the goal of capturing methane released from cattle.
Eco-tourism opportunities emerge on the Obstruction Belt. Serving the community, eco-tourists have the opportunity to experience the transformed landscape as well as production facilities. Spaces such as the underground observation auditorium and the observation platform within the methane tower allow the eco-tourist to experience the methane energy production process as well as the efforts of remediation. Along the ‘boardwalk’ there is a collection of gathering public gathering spaces for visitors. Additionally, eco-tourists are encouraged to explore and experience the extensive proto-landscape as is provides an obstructionist buffer zone between energy/machine and the natural Sand Hills landscape.