Faced with diminishing demand for fossil fuels, the struggling oil and gas industry is investing billions of dollars in new plants designed to produce millions more tons of plastics — and millions more tons of pollution.
The oil industry plans to increase plastic production by 40% over the next decade. Big Oil’s big plan means millions more tons of plastic — and millions more tons of emissions — will flood into the marketplace and into the environment.
According to the Center for Environmental International Law more than 99% of plastic is made from chemicals sourced from fossil fuels. A recent study published by Environmental Research Letters identified 88 petrochemical projects in the planning or development phase along the Gulf Coast. If all are completed, the combined emissions output could reach 150.8 million metric tons, the equivalent of 38 coal plants.
By 2030, emissions from global plastic production and incineration could reach 1.34 gigatons annually, the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide released by 295 coal plants each year.
“Plastic is fossil fuel in another form. Everything that happens before you see that plastic on the shelf is emissions intense,” said Steven Feit, a lawyer of Center for Environmental International Law. “It releases all manner of pollutants and toxic chemicals.”
There are more than 30 plastic plants in the pipeline, from the Ohio River Valley to the Gulf Coast, as oil companies aim to turn the current oversupply of fracked ethane gas into polyethylene, a type of plastic.
For example, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, near the Ohio border, Shell is constructing a massive $6 billion petrochemicals complex. The 386-acre property is fed by a 98-mile pipeline system that will deliver up to 100,000 barrels of ethane per day to the “cracker” plant, which will “crack” ethane molecules apart to produce plastic for phone cases, auto parts, bottles, bags, toys, food packaging and other plastic products.
According to Popular Science, the plant will have its own rail system with 3,300 freight cars and will produce more than a million tons of plastic each year — along with millions more tons of pollution.