The plastics industry has reaped under-the-radar benefits from the environmentally destructive fracking boom. The fossil fuel industry has surged over the past decade by employing new techniques and technologies that combine horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) to extract oil and gas from shale and other underground rock formations. Fracking injects large quantities of water, sand and toxic chemicals under high pressure to release oil and gas that are tightly held in rock layers.
The fracking boom has also produced an oversupply of cheap ethane in the past few years. This surge has been a boon for the plastics industry, which relies on petrochemical manufacturing to turn ethane (a hydrocarbon present in natural gas) into plastics. Beginning in 2012 chemical companies started aggressively investing in petrochemical plants and export facilities focused on tapping the ethane glut. The petrochemical industry produces hydrocarbon-based chemicals derived primarily from processed natural gas and, to a lesser extent, crude oil. Petrochemicals are the building blocks to manufacture a wide range of goods, including plastic packaging, beverage bottles, tires and more. In 2012 an estimated 221,483,538 barrels of oil equivalent of natural gas and 99,520,690 barrels of crude oil were used to produce plastic resins.