This week The Story of Plastic debuts at the Mill Valley Film Festival. This documentary links all of the impacts of plastic, from the oil and gas extraction to manufacturing to waste in our oceans and pollution from incineration. For the first time in one place, we can see the global scale of the oil, gas and chemical industries, and their plans for our future. Earthworks helped introduce the filmmakers to communities on the frontlines of extraction, and we are thrilled to see their stories on the big screen.
Thanks to our fracking boom in the U.S., we have become the world’s largest producer of both oil and natural gas, at great expense to communities and nature. More than a million and a half oil and gas wells dot our landscape, with more proposed, in 34 states, and more than 12.6 million people live within a half mile of a well. Even as oil and gas operators claim they are clean and green, like Extraction OG in Colorado said in response to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s visit last month, we have proven over and again that their operations cause enormous methane pollution with our FLIR optical gas imaging cameras.
Methane is not the only waste product from fracking; these oil and gas wells also produce chemicals that could become the building blocks of plastics. The oil and gas industry is just catching up to its new boom in production throughout America and building new pipelines and petrochemical plants to export plastics.
We have long known about the problems of plastic waste – from waste incineration poisoning communities to plastic trash filling oceans and beaches. The reality of plastics is that 99% of them come from fossil fuels; disposable spoons, straws and bags started out in an oil well. The natural gas shales in the U.S. are particularly rich in ethane, which must be chemically changed in a process called ‘cracking’ in order to yield the building blocks of plastics. Companies like Shell, Exxon and Formosa are now proposing the largest ethane crackers in the world to be built in the U.S. to take advantage of the glut in ethane, brought to us by the boom in fracking.
Meanwhile, these same companies are taking advantage of government subsidies. Despite consumer campaigns to ban single-use plastics, and the feel-good marketing of the plastics pushers, the U.S. is firmly pushing to undermine plastic recycling in favor of supporting these new petrochemical facilities.
This is the Story of Plastic. It is a story of communities in harms’ way; from the shale fields of Texas and Pennsylvania, to the beaches and rivers of Philippines and Indonesia, to the toxic pollution hurting communities next to incinerators around the world. And, it is a story of building power – every place a community bans wasteful plastic, blocks a pipeline, and builds the political will to stop pollution, is a place that is fighting for community rights.
Earthworks joined the Break Free From Plastic Movement to expand our campaigns to keep oil and gas in the ground to incorporate this critical profit center for the oil and gas industry. Fracking is where the climate movement can merge with campaigns against wasteful plastic.
Thanks to the Story of Stuff Project for bringing this movie to fruition. The Story of Plastic will be available for activist screenings; for more information and to follow the movie, visit https://www.storyofplastic.org/