Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth by injecting highly pressurized fluids–including combinations of highly toxic chemicals–into the shale to release the trapped gas. The process was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, which means companies don’t even have to disclose the chemicals they use–chemicals which can contaminate ground water. Fracking has been linked to air and water pollution and even earthquakes.
But what does fracking have to do with plastic?
Most people still think that plastic is made from petroleum–oil. And much of it is. But in the United States, a large percentage of plastic is actually made from natural gas. Why? Well, plastic is made from hydrocarbons. And fossil fuels like oil, natural gas, and coal are rich with hydrocarbons. In fact, in the early days of the plastics industry, the primary source of hydrocarbons to make plastic was coal tar. The industry will use whatever is plentiful and cheap. And with the U.S. fracking boom, plastics manufacturers are encouraged to build manufacturing plants in the areas where the natural gas is being extracted. The more available natural gas, the more plastic manufacturing in the United States.
According to an article in Plastics News (PDF) in April of this year, increases in natural gas extraction could lead to increases in the production of polyethylene, polypropylene, and even the most toxic plastic, polyvinyl chloride:
PVC, like PE, could benefit from low-priced ethylene feedstock as well as from low costs for gas-fired electricity needed to make chlorine.
The direct impacts of fracking are bad enough. But the fact that more fracking could mean more PVC production compels this plastic-free advocate to take action.
The Global Frackdown
Please join me on October 19 for the 2nd Global Frackdown Day of Action. I plan to attend the event at Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza at 12 noon. I’m disappointed that California’s Governor Brown is supportive of fracking in my state. I mean, I voted for that guy! (Not that there were so many awesome choices this time around.) So I want to join with others to demand a ban on fracking in California.
As the name suggests, there will be events all over the world on October 19. Check the Global Frackdown event page to find an action in your area.
Here are a few links for more information about fracking and the damage it causes:
Dangers of Fracking (Scroll down the page… a cool, graphic explanation of the process, brought to you by the guys who made Gasland.)