We’re Literally Eating and Drinking Plastic. Fossil Fuels Are To Blame.

July 10, 2019
 Climate Water

The plastics industry sees fracking as a huge opportunity for their profit margins. But plastic has already entered our food and water supply and our bodies—one more reason we need to move off fossil fuels before the problem gets even worse.

By Darcey Rakestraw

Care about plastic pollution? Then it’s time to work to start moving away from fossil fuels.

Plastic is a serious problem, and it’s time we addressed it at its source: fossil fuel production. Plastics are increasingly fueled by fracking in the U.S.—the extreme method of extracting fossil fuels that is polluting our air and our water, and exacerbating climate change. Fracking provides the cheap raw materials for plastics production, which has lead industry publication Plastics News to say fracking “represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity.” More fracking equals more profit in plastics (which equals, you guessed it…more plastics.)

It is so pervasive in our environment that it’s become commonplace to digest it through the microplastics present in our food and water.

Plastic in Water, Salt…Even Beer?

Everyone drinks water, and whether you drink tap water or bottled water, you are very likely ingesting some level of plastic pollution. A recent study by Orb Media tested 159 drinking water samples from cities and towns around the world, and 83 percent of those samples contained microplastic fibers. That means food prepared with plastic-contaminated water becomes contaminated as well.

Bottled water samples fared even worse than tap water—unsurprising because it is manufactured with plastic. Another recent study by the same organization found 90 percent of bottled water analyzed from around the world contained plastic microfibers. A single bottle of Nestlé Pure Life had concentrations of microfiber plastics up to 10,000 pieces per liter. The type of plastic used to make bottle caps was the most common type of microplastic fiber found in bottled water.

In response to the mounting evidence showing plastic is present in our drinking water, the World Health Organization is now looking into the problem.

Plastic has also been found in sea salt, and researchers attribute that to the ubiquitous nature of single-use plastics such as water bottles, which comprise the majority of plastic waste. In 2015 about 70 percent of plastic water bottles went unrecycled, and much of this plastic waste ends up in landfills, incinerators or in—you guessed it—our oceans and seas. Plastic has also been found in seafood, beer, honey and sugar.

We need more research on the extent of microplastic pollution and the best ways to treat water to remove it. It’s also clear that we need to upgrade water treatment plant infrastructure so it can handle this new pollutant. But the best way to address this pollution is at the source by reducing plastic waste in the environment.

Fracking in the U.S. Promotes a Global Plastics Bonanza

Fracking, which causes many negative public health problems and harms our air, water, and climate, is now powering a dangerous plastics bonanza. It was the rapid expansion of fracking in the United States that led to a gas glut, which drove real natural gas prices to the lowest level in decades. This is where the plastic industry came to the rescue of the oil and gas industry: low-cost ethane, a byproduct of fracking, is used to manufacture plastics.

Both plastic and ethane are being exported across the globe. More than half of the raw plastic produced in the U.S. is headed to distant shores. Whereas the chemical giant Ineos, based in the United Kingdom, is receiving ethane to help fuel European plastic factories. The controversial Mariner East pipeline system delivers this gas byproduct to the Marcus Hook export terminal in Pennsylvania—where it is then carried via massive “dragon ships” across the Atlantic to Ineos’ facilities in Grangemouth, Scotland and Rafnes, Norway.

What represents an “opportunity” for the plastics, oil, and gas industries means adverse health effects and climate catastrophe for all of us. To learn more about the toxic relationship between the plastics and fracking industry read our recent report, and spread the word: we can’t tackle plastic pollution without moving off fossil fuels. Will you help us put a stop to the fracking-to-plastics pipeline by chipping in once a month?

It Turns Out Fracking Is A Water Hog That’s Stealing Our Futures

July 10, 2019
 Climate Water
A team of Duke University researchers are delivering a truth that’s hard to swallow and that some of us predicted — fracking is resulting in the disappearance of usable water. Will the people listen and do something in time?

For years, the American people have been assured by energy companies that fracking is harmless and doesn’t use more water than other energy sources. The Duke research team that recently put out a new report begs to differ. They examined data across 12,000 wells and five years of operation. Here are key findings from the report and what they mean for our survival.

The Findings

Water is staying trapped in the shale, or if it does re-emerge, isn’t treated: 

Only a small fraction of the fresh water injected into the ground returns as flowback water, while the greater volume of FP (flowback and produced) water returning to the surface is highly saline, is difficult to treat, and is often disposed through deep-injection wells.

Right: Charts showing the increase in water use intensity over time. Left: Charts showing the decrease in usable Flowback & Produced waters over time. Courtesy of Duke University via Creative Commons.

The amount of water used by fracking has been critically underestimated.

The study finds that from 2011 to 2016, the water use per well increased by as much as 770 percent. In an interview for ThinkProgress, one of the authors of the study explained how early estimates of fracking’s irresponsible use of water had been so skewed:

“Previous studies suggested hydraulic fracturing does not use significantly more water than other energy sources, but those findings were based only on aggregated data from the early years of fracking… After more than a decade of fracking operation, we now have more years of data to draw upon from multiple verifiable sources.”— Avner Vengosh, Duke professor of geochemistry and water quality

The toxic wastewater produced is a much bigger problem than previously understood.

The study found that toxic wastewater produced from fracking had increased up to 1440 percent between 2011 and 2016. There has been no satisfactory practice of water treatment that returns this water to usable condition for humanity — and at this scale, one can reason that fracking is on pace to destroy U.S. water sources and leave us without water for our population’s consumption: 

The total water impact of hydraulic fracturing is poised to increase markedly in both shale gas– and oil-producing regions. On the basis of modeling future hydraulic fracturing operations in the United States in two scenarios of drilling rates, we project cumulative water use and FP water volumes to increase by up to 50-fold in unconventional gas-producing regions and up to 20-fold in unconventional oil-producing regions from 2018 to 2030, assuming that the growth of water use matches current growth rates and the drilling of new wells again matches peak production.

What We Do Next Is Critical

Waiting another five years for a new report to bolster this or to show an even bigger spike in fracking’s greedy water consumption is not an option.

“At a time when large parts of our county are suffering through persistent droughts and year-round fire seasons, it’s truly unconscionable that the fossil fuel industry would be allowed to divert vast volumes of water to fracking for oil and gas. The fact that the burning of this oil and gas is driving our climate chaos and intensifying the droughts and fires makes this reality all the more shameful and absurd.” – Seth Gladstone, Food & Water Watch

Organizations like Food & Water Watch and people like you need to double down on our efforts to ban fracking now and to move to 100% renewable energy ASAP. Humanity doesn’t get a do-over on saving our water supply. Help us do this work by chipping in as a monthly donor! 

Duke’s full report is available here: