Energy in the Midwestern Regions

The primary energy resources in the Midwest come from fossil fuels. Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio combined represent 13% of the total coal production in the US, and it is the primary source of energy. Illinois was once a major producer of oil, and natural gas production has been increasing in Ohio.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels—oil, natural gas, and coal—are made of the preserved organic remains of ancient organisms. Petroleum typically forms from the remains of aquatic life, primarily one-celled photosynthetic organisms, which can accumulate in sediments. Coal forms primarily from the accumulation of land plants. In either case, organic matter only preserves when the rate of accumulation is higher than the rate the rate of decay. This happens most often when the oxygen supply is sufficiently low that oxygen-loving bacteria cannot thrive, greatly slowing breakdown of organic matter. In this way, the organic matter can be incorporated into the buried sediment. The organics are compacted and heated with the rest of the rock, eventually transforming into fossil fuels.

The history of surface environments, evolution of life, and geologic processes beneath the surface have all influenced where fossil fuel deposits formed and accumulated. The largest oil and gas reserves were at one time nutrient-rich seas with abundant surface phytoplankton and organic- rich bottom sediments; the largest coal beds were swampy environments where fallen forest trees and leaves were buried in stagnant muds.

Figure 7.3: Average annual wind power distribution in the Midwest.

Figure 7.3: Average annual wind power distribution in the Midwest.

While fossil fuels represent both the majority of energy produced and consumed within the Midwest, growth of renewables has been substantial in the last several years. Between 2011 and 2012, electricity produced from wind increased 30% in the area. While Iowa leads the Midwest in production, both Michigan and Ohio much more than doubled their production in this timeframe. In 2012, wind produced 25% of Iowa’s electricity and 15% of Minnesota’s (Figure 7.3).

Biofuels (from biomass) also represent a significant energy resource throughout the Midwest, with production and consumption rapidly rising. Between 2001 and 2011, ethanol grew from less than 1% (by volume) of US gasoline to 10%. Most gasoline in the US is now blended with 10% ethanol (E10). Ethanol is not as energy dense as gasoline, so it provides about 6% of the energy in E10 gasoline. The Midwestern states are major producers of both ethanol and biodiesel, and production of both has much more than doubled in the last ten years. Liquid biofuels now provide about 1% of US energy while wind provides about 1.5%. As biofuels are produced from many different crops and through a range of different processes, their environmental impact is difficult to measure.