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Shopping to reduce my fracking footprint

Amy Mall

Posted October 3, 2013

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There's something on which the oil and gas industry and I agree: there is a lot more to oil and gas than gasoline, electricity, and home heat. According to the American Petroleum Institute: "Thousands of products – from your toothpaste to your iPod®, your cellphone to your computer, and your vitamins to vegetables – all got their start from oil or natural gas. When you stop and think about it, America’s oil and natural gas industry is an amazingly integral part of your world."

We can reduce our consumption of oil and gas--and thereby reduce the need for fracking. When most people think of oil and gas they think of the gasoline in our cars and the heat and power in our homes, and we know we can reduce our usage of these fuels. I don't drive my car much, but I recently sold my Subaru and bought a 2006 Prius -- doubling my average gas mileage overnight. And we can reduce our use of natural gas by turning off our lights when they're not needed, buying Energy Star appliances, insulating our homes, and more.

But we don't always have a choice about whether or not we use petroleum in our cars or natural gas to power our homes. In the meantime, there are many things that we can make a choice about on a regular basis in order to reduce our "fracking footprint."

Every day we can reduce our consumption of oil and gas-based "petro-products" by choosing non-petro alternatives when we shop for clothes, household goods, personal care products, and more. Doing so will mean less fracking. While many of these products come from overseas, the risks of oil and gas production are the same for communities in other countries. And by purchasing fewer of these petro-products, we will lower demand and reduce the pressure to frack more in the United States. 

Here are just a few of the ways I have chosen to reduce my own "fracking footprint" every day:

Plastic packaging: I strive to minimize my purchases of virgin plastic, which is made from derivatives of natural gas or petroleum. Some examples from my last visit to the grocery store: I bought pasta in a cardboard box, not non-recyclable plastic wrap. I used reusable produce bags, not a fresh plastic bag every time. And I bought dog poop bags and trash bags made from non-petro materials, and toilet paper wrapped in recycled and recyclable paper instead of plastic. In 2011, Americans threw out 29 million tons of plastic. Another 2.65 million tons were recycled--meaning the vast majority of these petro-products were just thrown into the trash, requiring more fracking to replace them.

Synthetic fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals: I buy organic food as much as possible for several reasons. But one important reason is that organic farmers are generally prohibited from using petro-products, including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and weedkillers (except for a few rare exceptions). Organic farmers do use fertilizers and pesticides, but they are not made from synthesized petro-products. And for food storage, I use containers made from recycled plastic or glass.

Personal care products: look around any drugstore shelf and you will see hundreds of products containing petrochemicals, packaged in petro-based plastic. Instead, I try to buy products made without any petro-chemicals, packaged in recyclable glass or paper. There are a lot of these products for sale. Instead of toothpaste made with petro-chemicals in non-recyclable packaging, I've been buying non-petro products in recyclable packaging, like tooth powder (also great for traveling!), and dental floss packaged in paper. Make-up and hair products can also be found that are petro-free. If I have to purchase products in plastic packaging, I look for products with recyclable packaging (in most communities, not all plastic products are recyclable), and packaging made with recycled content materials if those are available.

Synthetic fabric and textiles: A lot of textiles--polyester, acrylic, nylon--are petro-based. I try to buy organic cotton products as much as possible, and I am a huge fan of Patagonia products. Patagonia uses organic cotton and, when it comes to synthetic clothing, Patagonia has pledged to "build useful things that last, to repair what breaks and recycle what comes to the end of its useful life." I have jackets from Patagonia made with recycled polyester and recycled fill. I also buy used clothing in consignment and thrift shops. I recently bought some carpeting made from recycled content that can be recycled.

Cleaning products:The cleaning aisle is another aisle of the grocery store filled with petro-packaging and petrochemicals. As an alternative, I make my own cleaning products from non-petro products like vinegar and baking soda, use bottles made from recycled plastic content, and reuse the container over and over again.

In today's world will we realistically won't eliminate all non-energy petro-products anytime soon. And some of the alternatives also present concerns that need to be addressed.

But we can easily use our wallets and our consumer power to choose non-petro products and support companies and farmers who want to reduce their own environmental footprint and protect clean air and clean water. I've shared a few ideas, but there are many more to reduce our fracking footprint.

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Michael BerndtsonOct 5 2013 12:42 PM

Amy, this post got me thinking. So I went over to the potentially soon to be inactive Energy Information Administration (EIA) website for information on crude production oil refining. I'll leave the natural gas for others.

US refineries feed in 6.8 Billion barrels of oil per year. 2.9 billion barrels from domestic supply. 3.9 billion barrels from foreign (1.6 from OPEC and 2.3 non OPEC).

Here's what comes out ( in percent of crude in - all units and adjustments per EIA, so trust me here):

Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG for heating): 12%
Gasoline: 47
Jet Fuel: 8
Diesel: 20
Residual Oil (for ships and heating): 2
Petrochemical feed stocks: 2
Lubes and waxes: 1
Petroleum coke: 2
Asphalt and road oil: 2
Still Gas (for petro chem feed): 4

Total: should be 100%

In 2012, planes, trains and automobiles (and trucks) used about 75 percent of the refined crude. That's 5.1 billion barrels a year to move people and things. As a comparative tool, the Bakken shale in North Dakota produced about 210 million barrels (say 0.2 billion barrels).

With a 5 percent gain in transportation efficiency and use reduction, we would save roughly 1 Bakken per year (in 2012 rates). And over 2 Bakkens with just a 10 percent gain. Or put it this way, Saudi Arabia sent us 500 million barrels (0.5 billion) of oil in 2012. So a 10 percent improvement in efficiency and use reduction would equal about one Saudi Arabia.

MJBs recommendations on becoming less oily: stay home, drive less, walk more and do what you got to do with personal care and cleaning.

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