Energy. Environment. Economy.

The Costs of Energy

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

A caravan of trucks travel through the Loyalsock State Forest to a natural gas drilling site. Fossil fuel production itself utilizes a lot of energy.

On Tuesday, we published a story on the near impossible task of reaching energy independence. Our friends at PRI’s The World simultaneously aired a story that answers questions on why tapping new sources of fossil fuels won’t help the U.S., or any country, get off the treadmill. The answer? It’s a lot more energy intensive to produce a gallon of gas today, than it was 100 years ago. The World has more:

Getting a barrel of oil out of the ground takes energy. Years ago, you could get 100 barrels of oil out of the ground with just one barrel of oil spent. Now, it’s more like 20 to one, or even five to one. That compares favorably with renewable energy sources — but it all depends on how things are counted.

The World breaks down the meaning of the Energy Return on Investment, or EROI, and compares the costs of producing fossil fuels to renewables.


  • Michael Juras

    And with less discretionary energy for society to use, our options with fossil fuels decrease as the EROI grows smaller. At present, roughly 10 percent of our economy is required to get the energy to run the other 90 percent, or 20 percent is used to get 80 percent to the point of delivery.

    As the EROI of fuels decline into the future then more of society will be working in the energy industry and there will be less net dollars and energy delivered to the rest of society. Hall, Balogh and Murphy estimated in their peer-reviewed publication, “What is the Minimum EROI that a Sustainable Society Must Have?” that a 5:1 EROI from our main fuels will be needed to maintain anything like what we call “civilization” today.

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