Big Oil invests billions in alternative energy

Source: E&E • Posted: Friday, May 11, 2012

Oil majors have become the biggest investor in the clean fuels industry, sinking $71 billion into low- and no-emission and renewable energy technologies over the last decade, according to a report from the American Petroleum Institute.

By contrast, the U.S. government has spent about $43 billion on its low-carbon energy efforts over the same time period, the report says.

Exxon Mobil Corp. is investing $600 million on a decades-long project aimed at turning algae into oil. Royal Dutch Shell PLC has been buying sugar cane mills, refineries and plantations in Brazil to make ethanol. And BP PLC has spent $7 billion on alternative energy efforts since 2005.

“We are making huge bets” on biofuels, as well as wind and solar, said Katrina Landis, who heads up BP Alternative Energy. She said her division has boomed from just a handful of employees in 2005 to a staff of 5,000 today.

But environmental groups are skeptical that the industry is making any fundamental shift in the way it approaches climate and environmental matters. They point out that the API report shows only $9 billion of the $71 billion has gone to renewable energy, while the rest is being used to make the companies’ fossil fuel businesses greener.

“Their interest is in a validation of the promise of clean tech,” said Simon Mui, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “But I don’t want to imply that this is something we should be falling out of our chairs over” (Bloomberg/Fuel Fix, May 10).