From the moment fossil fuels are extracted from the site, they participate in a complex process largely invisible to the consumer. Whether they are extracted through hydraulic fracturing in the Upper Midwest, or through deep sea drilling off the coast of Texas, the need for fuel sets into motion vast and complex chemical transformations inside the refineries, and significant physical transformation of the landscape through which they must travel. By the time the fuel arrives at the gas station, the vast geological and industrial networks they require are abstracted and condensed further to a commodity exchange – simply a number of gallon the automobile needs and the price we consumers must pay.
The economic market driven by supply and demand, are often controlled by various parties and manipulated by sometimes visual factors that are unseen by the consumers. One such example can be found in the ‘tank farm’ in Cushing Oklahoma. Not only is the site for the largest tank farm in the nation, Cushing is also the physical delivery point of US Texas West Intermediate, the benchmark oil traded in North America. How much oil is being piped in and out of Cushing at particular moment becomes crucial information for the financial advisers to make negotiations on price. The physical property of the tank becomes an unexpected clue.
Oil tanks have floating rooftops that moves up and down depending on the amount of oil being stored inside. By taking aerial photography of the tank farm, energy intelligence companies were able to measure the shadow casted by the roof, and in turn make educated guess on how much oil Cushing is storing at the moment. Many oil companies have already been exploring the use of drones to survey difficult and sometimes dangerous terrain of the extraction sites.
US domestic airspace is expected to allow commercial drones into its realm in 2015, as FAA drafts a comprehensive regulations on commercial drones and plans for its issue in 2015. The possibility of this new aerial technology is vast, not only in surveillance, but also in its potential to become a new infrastructure as its ability to quickly access and deliver further improves. My project aims to explore the possibility of a new energy infrastructure by interfacing drones with the energy market and tackles the raised questions of surveillance and exposure or withhold of energy information that will contribute to the manipulation of the new energy economy. Under the premise that the production of oil is not the most efficient and clean form of energy, in my proposal, I envision a future where a new type of energy will be produced and stored in condensed forms of batteries, which will be carried and delivered by drones.
Drone energy fields that carry out the production of battery and drones are proposed nationwide in urban and rural settings. New flight corridors will be proposed into domestic airspace to allow air highways where drones will be flying without obstruction to their destinations. In this project, one prototypical field is designed inside the Cushing tank farm. Responding to the increased aerial surveillance, the massing of the production and management facilities took on the circular footprint and massing of the oil tanks. A campus of drone production facilities are proposed on the site, managed and operated by companies of different sizes. For easy deployment of drones, the skin of the facility are composed of individual drone storage units, operated by computerized automation. The inner skin are office spaces and market trading floors for human occupancy, and the more obscure space in between two skins are productions floors and distribution facilities. The physical state of the skin signals the state of the economic market. In regular operations of daily delivery, the facilities are in constant flux as large amount of drones are constantly being deployed and received, and signals an inflation in drone activities and increase in energy demand. Facilities are also designed to respond to crisis of energy shortage, such as in cases of earthquakes or hurricane, where full deployment will be activated and causing a flooding of the market. When demand is low and drone energy companies may shut down operation, the facilities will appear completely inactive. The project proposes a new energy distribution network where drones will be the new unit of energy, as well as the means of transportation and delivery. Drones’ ability to quickly and efficiently access a variety of different terrains opens new doors into not only transportation of energy and other commodities or information, but also a new operational mode of economic market, where the demand and supply of such commodity is more transparent to consumers, and at the same time more vulnerable to manipulation and even destruction.