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October 12, 2007 at 5:45 PM

BP: the new kid in SimCity

In the wake of concerns about independence from foreign crude and global warming, Big Oil is diversifying into a new economic sector: computer gaming.

BP announced this week that it partnered with Electronic Arts to bring real-world energy choices into the latest version of SimCity. The game, SimCity Societies, will be launched on Nov. 15. The objective is to raise awareness about low-carbon power choices, the U.K.-based oil giant said in a statement.

BP’s venture into the gaming world follows an earlier attempt by Chevron, which created its own pared-down version of SimCity and put it on its website a few weeks ago.

The trend underscores how oil companies are coming up with increasingly creative ways to be perceived as environmentally-friendly.

BP was actually one of the first companies to address the climate change issue, at a time when other oil companies scowled: In the late nineties, the firm abandoned its legacy name of “British Petroleum”, adding the motto “Beyond petroleum” to its branding. But the company has come under fire due to a tragic explosion in its Texas City refinery and oil spills in its crude oil operation in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. BP’s charismatic CEO Lord Browne, who kickstarted the green campaign, resigned in disgrace earlier this year.

Fossil fuel behemoths don’t only invest in publicity stunts, though. In February, BP awarded $500 million over 10 years to the University of California-Berkeley for biofuels research, and Chevron has partnered with Weyerhaeuser to develop cellulosic ethanol, among other initiatives. The level of green investment, however, is paltry compared to the multi-billion capital budgets spent on fossil fuel production.

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