Synthesis to Special Issue on New Studies in EROI (Energy Return on Investment)
This paper is a synthesis of a series of twenty papers on the topic of EROI, or energy return on investment. EROI is simply the energy gained from an energy-obtaining effort divided by the energy used to get that energy. For example, one barrel of oil invested into getting oil out of the ground might return fifty, thirty, ten or one barrel, depending when and where the process is taking place. It is meant to be read in conjunction with the first paper in this special issue and also a number of the papers themselves. As such I try to summarize what general trends we might conclude from these varied and often highly technical papers. About half of the papers are reports on empirical analyses of various energy sources such as Norwegian or Gulf of Mexico oil, Pennsylvania gas and so on. About a quarter of the papers are methodological: how do we go about undertaking these analyses, what problems are there, what are the proper boundaries and so on. The final quarter are in a sense philosophical: since it appears that we will be living indefinitely in a world of decreasing EROIs, what are the economic, social and psychological implications? The rest of this paper summarizes the results of these studies.
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