A videographic essay by Hillary Archer, Ken Chongsuwat, Nina Phinouwong
This video is produced for the 'DES 3241 : Theories of Urbanism, Landscape, Ecology', a course taught by Pierre Bélanger at Harvard University Graduate School of Design in the Fall 2013.
In a swarm of wells and pipelines, the North Sea’s identity is one of both sea and settlement.
Given its extreme depths, the development of technology for energy structures is ceaseless. Sometimes 160 meters deep, oil platforms transcend into the abyss of substrata to exploit the wealth of energy found there and to share the wealth via umbilical connections to land.
Liquid oil and natural gas are the North Sea’s prized commodities for the global cheap energy market. Disputes over the rights to extraction peaked during the late 1950s with the ratification of EEZs. A decade later the sea was partitioned into seven sectors along the median lines of bordering nations - solidifying the North Sea as territory.
Further licensing amongst BP, Shell and other multinational corporations has catalyzed an area of influence that stretches far beyond the physical boundaries of the water body.
Just below the stratosphere, contrails are a remnant registration of the oil outputs surfacing from over a hundred meters beneath the North Sea ocean bed. Within the same altitudinal strata, helicopters connect land to sea - populating oil platforms with temporal oil rig occupations. Onshore, refinery locations emerge as new ports - scattering along coastlines to feed energy production and distribution.
As western Europe's largest oil and natural gas supply, the North Sea functions as an upstream energy shed, fueling flows that expand the sea’s influence from land to atmosphere.
Devoid of compaction, the fluid ground of the ocean informs an equally fluid realm for occupation.The North Sea’s rotational occupation characterizes it as not quite farm, not quite factory… not quite mine. Over 66,000 workers populate the North Sea each year to keep the oil platforms running, their transitory occupations become as consequential as the 185 million people that live in the catchment area of the rivers discharging into the sea.
Oil platforms are built as mechanisms for stability, both physically and economically, yet their context is inherently unstable. [maybe annotation for scene: Over 4,000 oil spills since 2000] Occupational hazards abound as the North Sea’s hostile climate perpetuates, if not exacerbates, risks.
The accumulation of materials at these rig settlement clusters puts into question the impact of their obsolescence and decline alongside the world’s change in energy needs. Estimations project the North Sea’s expected lifespan to be between 20-30 years, implying almost half of its existing infrastructure will need to be decommissioned during the next 11 years.
Material accumulation in the sea amounts up to 15,747,834 tonnes of steel and concrete, along with over 11,000 km of pipelines that permeate across the sea floor.
If these rigs are thought of as an intricate web of installations, composed of individual units designed at different moments in time, a logistical challenge emerges as the removal of each unit has to work synergistically with the elaborate system in place.
North Sea as mine.
North Sea as settlement.
North Sea as ground.