Preface. The oil industry is making more plastic because electric cars have cut gasoline use, but because shale “fracked” gas is so light plastic is about the only use. It is not a transportation fuel that can save us from the coming peak oil energy crisis.
But the plastics boom may be abruptly stopped in its tracks. The fracking industry may not last as long as many believe (Miller 2019) for geological reasons. Fracking may also fail the pandemic financial crash since most companies are in debt.
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer, Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report
Gardiner, B. 2020. A Surge of New Plastic Is About to Hit the Planet as major oil companies ramp up their production. wired.com
Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.
And because the American fracking boom is unearthing, along with natural gas, large amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane, the United States is a big growth area for plastic production. With natural gas prices low, many fracking operations are losing money, so producers have been eager to find a use for the ethane they get as a byproduct of drilling.
“They’re looking for a way to monetize it,“ Feit said. “You can think of plastic as a kind of subsidy for fracking.”
Shell is building a $6 billion ethane cracking plant—a facility that turns ethane into ethylene, a building block for many kinds of plastic—in Monaca, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is expected to produce up to 1.6 million tons of plastic annually after it opens in the early 2020s. Pennsylvania granted the Shell plant a tax break valued at $1.6 billion—one of the biggest in state history—and officials in Ohio and West Virginia are wooing firms eager to build more ethane crackers, storage facilities, and pipelines.
Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the US, including expansions of existing facilities, new plants, and associated infrastructure such as pipelines.
If you aren’t going to use plastics, what are you going to use instead?” Alternatives like steel, glass, and aluminum have negative impacts of their own, including carbon footprints that can be greater than plastic’s. It makes cars lighter and therefore more efficient, insulates homes, reduces waste by extending food’s life, and keeps medical supplies sanitary, among many other uses.
Alter, L. 2019. Oil industry is spending billions on increasing plastics production. Treehugger.com
The increase in the production of petrochemicals, spurred by the abundance of shale gas as feedstock and the demand for ethane – a key component in plastics – has prompted energy companies to continue investing billions of dollars in the petrochemical sector. “The global petrochemical sector continues to expand exponentially as developing nations’ demand for petrochemical/chemical products continues to increase,” says Petroleum Economist.
Consultants note that oil producers are pivoting to plastics, away from gas or diesel, and that demand for petrochemical feedstocks will increase by 50%. Petrochemical manufacturers are building 11 new ethylene plants on the Gulf Coast, with capacity for polyethylene growing by 30 percent. The director of the trade association says, “You are going to see over $200 billion in investment in the Gulf Coast specifically related to petrochemical manufacturing.”
Harbors are being dredged, methanol complexes are being built, giant warehouses for pellet storage are under construction. “The Port of Greater Baton Rouge had its fortunes boosted recently with the announcement that ExxonMobil will spend $469 million to add a polypropylene manufacturing unit to its vast greater Baton Rouge petrochemical complex.”
Another $9.4 billion manufacturing complex on the Mississippi River will produce MDI or methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, which goes into our favorite products: polyurethane, spray-foam insulation, furniture, and textiles.
Miller, A. 2019. David Hughes’ Shale Reality check 2019. Postcarbon.org