Even as oil and gas production has come roaring back over the last decade thanks to advances in drilling technology, some fossil fuel-rich regions of the U.S. have quietly become proving grounds for next-generation renewable energy technologies.
Renewables such as wind power and biofuels do not yet generate the financial returns of oil and gas development and struggle to compete for investment dollars, especially with the rapid rise of shale-rock exploration. But that has not stopped some of the biggest players in oil and gas from spending billions to get an early handle on these fast-growing technologies that are expected to represent the world's energy future.
BP, for example, projects that renewables will account for 17 percent of the growth in energy between now and 2030.
"Our aim is to keep building a [company] that is well matched to the world's evolving energy needs," BP's CEO, Bob Dudley, wrote in a March 2013 letter included with the company's latest sustainability report. "We invest in biofuels and wind because we think they can play an important role in the diverse energy mix required."
These investments have quietly taken root across the U.S. in regions better known as fossil fuel strongholds, fundamentally altering America's energy landscape.
Texas, for example, which leads all other U.S. states in both crude oil and natural gas production, has been adding windmills at a steady pace. The state became the national leader in wind energy in 2010—and the first state to achieve 10,000 megawatts of wind capacity.
BP operates four Lone Star State wind installations—the Sherbino 1 and 2, Silver Star 1 and Trinity Hills Wind Farms—that cumulatively represent the company's second-largest state wind power investment.
To the east sits America's second-ranked oil-and-gas state, Louisiana. Better known for its offshore drilling, Louisiana is also home to BP's biofuels demonstration unit. The 1.4 million gallon-per-year plant sits about 150 miles west of New Orleans in Jennings, La.—which calls itself "The Cradle of Louisiana Oil." The demonstration unit includes enzyme manufacturing, fermentation and laboratory facilities that play a key role in BP's biofuels research, development and technology licensing efforts.
In the Midwest, meanwhile, states like Illinois and Indiana—centers of crude oil refining and the seventh- and eighth-ranked coal producing states in the U.S.—are also playing a growing role in the deployment of renewable energy.
Indiana and Illinois have steadily added windmills since the mid-2000s, rising to become the fourth- and 13th-ranked states in installed wind capacity by the end of last year. BP's wind holdings in Indiana generate about 600 megawatts of capacity spread across its Fowler Ridge Wind Farm.
Illinois, for its part, has become a center for biofuel research—thanks in large part to BP.
The Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, plays a leading role in biofuel research into production enhancements and biofuel extraction from energy-rich crops. The institute is part of the Energy Biosciences Institute, a 10-year, $500 million research program launched in partnership between BP; the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; the University of California, Berkeley; and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.