Fighting a Trans-Atlantic Fracking Pipeline to Plastic Waste

Fracked hydrocarbon exports help bolster the plastics industry at the expense of communities and the environment, in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Photo Courtesy of Pete Stern,

Photo Courtesy of Pete Stern,

Fracking in Pennsylvania has scarred the state’s landscape, leaving a trail of water and air pollution, hazardous spills, and public health threats. Instead of slamming the brakes, state officials are poised to encourage more fracking, with some of the fracked gas products heading across the Atlantic to enrich an anti-union Scottish billionaire. The project presents a triple threat to public health, safety and the climate.

How Fracking = Plastic

Here’s how it works: Some of the drilling in Pennsylvania is designed to recover gas liquids like ethane and butane, which are valuable raw materials for plastics manufacturers. Those liquids are being loaded onto massive “dragon ships” at the Marcus Hook port in Pennsylvania. Their final destination is Scotland, where activists are fighting to prevent fracking from gaining a foothold.

The massive vessels are owned by a chemical company called Ineos, which has amassed a troubling record of safety and environmental violations. The company is led by controversial anti-union CEO Jim Ratcliff, who touts this investment as a “virtual pipeline” across the Atlantic, delivering the ethane and other liquids needed to expand his plastics profiteering.

And Ineos isn’t just relying on fracking in the United States. The company recently applied to conduct exploratory drilling in England. We have filed comments calling on local councils to reject these applications, based on the well-documented harms caused by fracking here in the United States.

Mariner East 2: More Fracking, More Plastic

The ability to export more fracked hydrocarbons is why Sunoco has been pushing to construct an additional pipeline, the $2.5 billion Mariner East 2 project. In February 2017, Sunoco obtained the required Mariner East 2 permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), despite the hundreds of deficiencies reportedly in the company’s applications. Opponents of the pipeline, along with former DEP officials, say that the department was under pressure from the office of Governor Tom Wolf to approve the project in accord with Sunoco’s construction timeline.

Mariner East 2 construction has already started, but the opposition to the project has only intensified. Some towns have passed resolutions opposing the project, while private residents along the 350-mile pipeline route are challenging the project based on local zoning regulations and direct action. Concerned residents point to Sunoco’s poor safety record — over 200 spills in the past 10 years — as evidence of the pipeline’s dangers to their communities. In just a few weeks of drilling, there were over 90 reported accidents, some of which damaged water supplies. Sunoco is poised to go even further. After receiving approval for Mariner East 2, the company announced that it was building another liquids pipeline, dubbed “ME2X.”

Pennsylvania’s Pro-Fracking Governor

Far from raising concerns about the potential expansion of dangerous fracking in the state, Governor Tom Wolf is fully behind it. In fact, in March the governor’s office promoted a study lauding the $3.7 billion potential in gas liquids, which could lead to the creation of new petrochemical plants statewide.

Sunoco’s Mariner East project, Ineos dragon ships, and the plastics industry represent a variety of threats to public health and the environment. Communities in Pennsylvania near the fracking wells and along the pipeline routes will bear the burden of dirty air and compromised water — not to mention the very real risk of catastrophic accidents. And the drilling feeds the plastics industry, which is tied to a range of acute public health and environmental concerns — from air pollution to the waste that inevitably winds up in our waterways.

Food & Water Watch is telling local officials to stand against Sunoco and writing Governor Wolf that he must stop fracking to protect the health of Pennsylvanians.

Get involved with the Global Frackdown.