Big oil invests $180B in plastics, merging two planet-killing industries

"There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics."

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We already know that the fossil fuel industry invests millions of dollars in drilling, lobbying, and other harmful environmental practices. But all of that is about to get a lot worse.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has acknowledged that fossil fuel giants, like Exxon and Shell Chemical, have invested more than $180 billion into the creation of plastic facilities.

The rise in shale gas exploration has led to a price drop of natural gas liquids, which are used to make plastics. This has caused companies to begin more than 300 plastics production projects since 2010. These new “cracking” facilities will produce raw material for everyday plastics, like bottles, trays and cartons.

This enormous investment in manufacturing plants by fossil fuel companies will increase plastic production by a whopping 40%.

“There has been a revolution in the U.S. with the shale gas technologies, with the fracking, the horizontal drilling. The cost of our raw material base has gone down by roughly two thirds,” says Kevin Swift, chief economist at the ACC.

The industry’s drive to create a plastic boom is very bad news for the planet.

Environmental protection advocates warn that a plastics boom could lead to a permanent state of pollution. Especially endangered are the world’s oceans, where there is already a danger of there being more plastic than fish by year 2050.

“We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it,” says Carroll Muffett, president of the Center for International Environmental Law (CEIL).

Muffet explains, “Around 99 percent of the feedstock for plastics is fossil fuels, so we are looking at the same companies … that have helped create the climate crisis. There is a deep and pervasive relationship between oil and gas companies and plastics.”

“We are already producing more disposable plastic than we can deal with, more in the last decade than in the entire twentieth century, and millions of tonnes of it are ending up in our oceans,” says Louise Edge, Greenpeace U.K.’s senior oceans campaigner.

This year has been a rude awakening for many regarding the level of plastics in our oceans. Earlier this year, scientists warned of near permanent contamination of the planet, and earlier this month U.K. environment secretary said reducing plastic pollution was a key focus.

This isn’t stopping fossil fuel companies. “In the U.S., fossil fuel and petrochemical companies are investing hundreds of billions of dollars to expand plastic production capacity… All this buildout, if allowed to proceed, will flood the global market with even more disposable, unmanageable plastic for decades to come,” says Steven Feit from the Centre for Environmental International Law.

“The link between the shale gas boom in the United States and the ongoing – and accelerating – global plastics crisis cannot be ignored.”

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