Petrochemicals and Plastic

Learn about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the petrochemical industry through FracTracker articles, maps, and imagery.

What are petrochemicals?

Petrochemicals are chemicals derived from oil and gas. While these synthetic chemicals weren’t widely used until after the 1950’s, their impact today is enormous. They make up toiletries, electronics, building materials, and synthetic fertilizers that grow our food. The most ubiquitous use of petrochemicals, however, is to make plastic.

Petrochemicals are often left out of the global discussion on energy, but they are a rapidly expanding part of the oil and gas industry. Companies are taking advantage of cheap shale gas and investing heavily into petrochemicals, particularly plastics, “the fastest-growing group of bulk materials in the world.”

In other words, the fracking boom is creating a plastic boom.

This boom in the petrochemical industry is coming at a point when there’s an increasing global awareness of the disaster that is plastic pollution. As much as 12.7 million tons of plastic waste goes into the ocean each year. In response to this crisis, hundreds of cities and many countries are instituting policies to reduce plastic consumption.

In the United States, petrochemical facilities are currently concentrated along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana, states that sit above abundant oil and gas resources. Development in this region has come at significant cost to the health of local residents, earning it the nickname “Cancer Alley.”

However, now that fracking has opened up shale gas resources elsewhere, manufacturing is moving north towards the Utica and Marcellus shale regions. The Ohio River Valley is on its way towards becoming a new petrochemical hub.

Appalachia Maps

A map series of the petrochemical buildout in the Ohio River Valley, covering the entire process of fracking for plastic, from oil and gas extraction to plastic bag manufacturing

Imagery

Explore FracTracker’s vast collection of aerial imagery of petrochemical facilities in the US

Feature Series

Explore FracTracker’s Public Environmental Impact Assessment of the Falcon, a Shell-operated ethane pipeline

Story Maps

Journey throughout the Ohio River Valley with FracTracker in this energy landscape story map. Click on the image above.

National Map

FracTracker’s comprehensive national petrochemicals and energy map

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