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Sustainability 2011, 3(11), 2307-2322;

Energy Return on Investment (EROI) of Oil Shale

Department of Geography and Environment, Boston University, 675 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 6 April 2011 / Revised: 4 July 2011 / Accepted: 5 August 2011 / Published: 22 November 2011
(This article belongs to the Special Issue New Studies in EROI (Energy Return on Investment))
Full-Text   |   PDF [444 KB, uploaded 24 February 2015]


The two methods of processing synthetic crude from organic marlstone in demonstration or small-scale commercial status in the U.S. are in situ extraction and surface retorting. The considerable uncertainty surrounding the technological characterization, resource characterization, and choice of the system boundary for oil shale operations indicate that oil shale is only a minor net energy producer if one includes internal energy (energy in the shale that is used during the process) as an energy cost. The energy return on investment (EROI) for either of these methods is roughly 1.5:1 for the final fuel product. The inclusions or omission of internal energy is a critical question. If only external energy (energy diverted from the economy to produce the fuel) is considered, EROI appears to be much higher. In comparison, fuels produced from conventional petroleum show overall EROI of approximately 4.5:1. “At the wellhead” EROI is approximately 2:1 for shale oil (again, considering internal energy) and 20:1 for petroleum. The low EROI for oil shale leads to a significant release of greenhouse gases. The large quantities of energy needed to process oil shale, combined with the thermochemistry of the retorting process, produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Oil shale unambiguously emits more greenhouse gases than conventional liquid fuels from crude oil feedstocks by a factor of 1.2 to 1.75. Much of the discussion regarding the EROI for oil shale should be regarded as preliminary or speculative due to the very small number of operating facilities that can be assessed. View Full-Text
Keywords: shale oil; EROI; in situ production; surface retorting; petroleum shale oil; EROI; in situ production; surface retorting; petroleum
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY 3.0).

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Cleveland, C.J.; O’Connor, P.A. Energy Return on Investment (EROI) of Oil Shale. Sustainability 2011, 3, 2307-2322.

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