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Oil Depletion and the Energy Efficiency of Oil Production: The Case of California


  • Adam R. Brandt

    () (Department of Energy Resources Engineering, Green Earth Sciences 065, 367 Panama St., Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2220, USA)


This study explores the impact of oil depletion on the energetic efficiency of oil extraction and refining in California. These changes are measured using energy return ratios (such as the energy return on investment, or EROI). I construct a time-varying first-order process model of energy inputs and outputs of oil extraction. The model includes factors such as oil quality, reservoir depth, enhanced recovery techniques, and water cut. This model is populated with historical data for 306 California oil fields over a 50 year period. The model focuses on the effects of resource quality decline, while technical efficiencies are modeled simply. Results indicate that the energy intensity of oil extraction in California increased significantly from 1955 to 2005. This resulted in a decline in the life-cycle EROI from 6.5 to 3.5 (measured as megajoules (MJ) delivered to final consumers per MJ primary energy invested in energy extraction, transport, and refining). Most of this decline in energy returns is due to increasing need for steam-based thermal enhanced oil recovery, with secondary effects due to conventional resource depletion (e.g., increased water cut).

Suggested Citation

  • Adam R. Brandt, 2011. "Oil Depletion and the Energy Efficiency of Oil Production: The Case of California," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(10), pages 1-22, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:gam:jsusta:v:3:y:2011:i:10:p:1833-1854:d:14321

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Brandt, Adam R., 2007. "Testing Hubbert," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(5), pages 3074-3088, May.
    2. Cleveland, Cutler J., 2005. "Net energy from the extraction of oil and gas in the United States," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 769-782.
    3. Pehnt, Martin, 2006. "Dynamic life cycle assessment (LCA) of renewable energy technologies," Renewable Energy, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 55-71.
    4. Cleveland, Cutler J., 1992. "Energy quality and energy surplus in the extraction of fossil fuels in the U.S," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 6(2), pages 139-162, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Zhaoyang Kong & Xiucheng Dong & Bo Xu & Rui Li & Qiang Yin & Cuifang Song, 2015. "EROI Analysis for Direct Coal Liquefaction without and with CCS: The Case of the Shenhua DCL Project in China," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-22, January.
    2. Verma, Aman & Kumar, Amit, 2015. "Life cycle assessment of hydrogen production from underground coal gasification," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 147(C), pages 556-568.
    3. Zaman, Khalid & Mushtaq Khan, Muhammad & Ahmad, Mehboob, 2013. "Factors affecting commercial energy consumption in Pakistan: Progress in energy," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 19(C), pages 107-135.
    4. Fizaine, Florian & Court, Victor, 2015. "Renewable electricity producing technologies and metal depletion: A sensitivity analysis using the EROI," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 106-118.
    5. Raugei, Marco & Leccisi, Enrica, 2016. "A comprehensive assessment of the energy performance of the full range of electricity generation technologies deployed in the United Kingdom," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 46-59.
    6. Gavenas, Ekaterina & Rosendahl, Knut Einar & Skjerpen, Terje, 2015. "CO2-emissions from Norwegian oil and gas extraction," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 90(P2), pages 1956-1966.
    7. Rahman, Md Mustafizur & Canter, Christina & Kumar, Amit, 2014. "Greenhouse gas emissions from recovery of various North American conventional crudes," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 607-617.
    8. Leena Grandell & Charles A.S. Hall & Mikael Höök, 2011. "Energy Return on Investment for Norwegian Oil and Gas from 1991 to 2008," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(11), pages 1-21, October.
    9. Rahman, Md. Mustafizur & Canter, Christina & Kumar, Amit, 2015. "Well-to-wheel life cycle assessment of transportation fuels derived from different North American conventional crudes," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 159-173.
    10. Brandt, Adam R. & Dale, Michael & Barnhart, Charles J., 2013. "Calculating systems-scale energy efficiency and net energy returns: A bottom-up matrix-based approach," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 235-247.
    11. Raj, Ratan & Ghandehariun, Samane & Kumar, Amit & Linwei, Ma, 2016. "A well-to-wire life cycle assessment of Canadian shale gas for electricity generation in China," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 111(C), pages 642-652.
    12. David J. Murphy & Michael Carbajales-Dale & Devin Moeller, 2016. "Comparing Apples to Apples: Why the Net Energy Analysis Community Needs to Adopt the Life-Cycle Analysis Framework," Energies, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(11), pages 1-15, November.
    13. Adam R. Brandt, 2017. "How Does Energy Resource Depletion Affect Prosperity? Mathematics of a Minimum Energy Return on Investment (EROI)," Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, Springer, vol. 2(1), pages 1-12, March.
    14. Devin Moeller & David Murphy, 2016. "Net Energy Analysis of Gas Production from the Marcellus Shale," Biophysical Economics and Resource Quality, Springer, vol. 1(1), pages 1-13, May.
    15. Raugei, Marco & Sgouridis, Sgouris & Murphy, David & Fthenakis, Vasilis & Frischknecht, Rolf & Breyer, Christian & Bardi, Ugo & Barnhart, Charles & Buckley, Alastair & Carbajales-Dale, Michael & Csala, 2017. "Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) for photovoltaic solar systems in regions of moderate insolation: A comprehensive response," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 377-384.
    16. repec:gam:jeners:v:11:y:2018:i:1:p:156-:d:126013 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Victor Court & Florian Fizaine, 2014. "Energy transition towards renewables and metal depletion: an approach through the EROI concept," Post-Print hal-01411803, HAL.
    18. repec:gam:jeners:v:10:y:2017:i:5:p:614-:d:97365 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. repec:gam:jeners:v:10:y:2017:i:4:p:534-:d:95815 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    oil depletion; energy return on investment; energy efficiency;

    JEL classification:

    • Q - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics
    • Q0 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q3 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Nonrenewable Resources and Conservation
    • Q5 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products


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