Natural Gas, Our Air and Our Modern Lifestyles
Posted March 19, 2018
By now you may have seen our new ad, “Air Up Here,” highlighting the role natural gas has played in helping to lower U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to their lowest levels in nearly 25 years.
While the ad focuses on how the industry is helping reduce greenhouse gases in our air, you may not realize that every cut in the ad features consumer goods the industry makes possible or makes better. Take a look at the ad and see if you can identify all of the products – many of which you likely own – made from materials produced from natural gas and oil. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
It’s no accident that the ad features a basketball player throwing down, or that the ad began running during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Natural gas and oil play a huge role in the game. We recently posted on the many ways the industry makes fast breaks faster, lets players fly higher and gives spectators their seat in the house. From synthetic materials in sneakers, jerseys and even the ball, to the coating on the hardwood floor and the LED lights that illuminate the court, chemicals derived from the petroleum refining process are used a million ways.
If basketball isn’t your game, we’ve still got you covered. Did you see the kid doing sweet tricks on the skateboard? We’ve got him covered, literally, from head to toe and beyond. Helmets are typically made of ABS plastic or polycarbonate and help prevent damage to the brain during a gnarly wipeout. The wheels on the skateboard are polyurethane, another plastic. His clothes and shoes likely include nylon, polyester, plastic, synthetic leather and other manmade materials that trace their roots back to the first use of petroleum derivatives to make fabrics.
Back in the late 1930s and early 1940s, scientists discovered they could make fibers of thermoplastic resin and those fibers could become fabrics. While early nylon and polyester fabric got a bad rep for the way they felt, their wear and capacity for moving water away from the body are not in question.
Today, athletes like the ad’s long jumper likely are completely decked out in synthetic materials. The moisture wicking properties of synthetics draw moisture away from the body and through to the outside of the material, keeping the athlete drier and cooler than cotton or wool. Those ear buds rocking her workout also come from natural gas and oil. Hard plastics like polyvinyl chloride (commonly known as PVC) are often used to make durable goods that need to take a beating like the shells of earbuds or the pipes in your home.
Even the dog in the ad gets in on the action. That Frisbee he’s catching is made of polyethylene. More polyethylene is consumed by volume than any other polymer. Polyethylene is used to make everything from toys to phone cases.
If running and jumping don’t take you high enough, a hot air balloon certainly will. The first hot air balloon took to the skies in France in 1783, but it wasn’t until the introduction of nylon envelopes and propane burners in the 1960s that recreational ballooning really took off. Today there are approximately 10,000 hot air balloon pilots on earth, with about half of those in the U.S. The propane that gives them lift is extracted in the refining process and is just like the propane you use to fire up the grill. Shot through the burner, the propane heats the air in the envelope giving it buoyancy. The balloon gets higher than the little girl on the swing, but both are powered by natural gas and oil. The swing she uses to catapult herself is made of plastic.
Just about the closest you’ll come to being a bird is to take to the air on a hang glider or a wingsuit. Wingsuits, like the one in the ad, include the same type of nylon that makes the envelope on a balloon, or the material in a tent. Incredibly strong, nylon provides excellent strength and protection against tearing. That’s important when you’re gliding down the face of a mountain with little between you but a pocket of air. The parachute he deploys when it’s time to land is also made of that same tough nylon. Other synthetic materials in the suit include polyester, neoprene, and spandex.
Riding a motorcycle and flying in a wingsuit can both be incredibly dangerous. That’s why both people in the ad are smart to protect their heads with polycarbonate helmets, and their bodies with materials appropriate to their activity. Petroleum powers the dirt bike, but even the plastic components and hand grips come from the same source.
Take a moment, watch the ad again, and stop to think about all the things you come in contact with throughout your day. You may be surprised to realize all that is made better, and more fun, by natural gas and oil.
About The Author
Mary Schaper is a Digital Communications Manager for the American Petroleum Institute. She previously worked on Capitol Hill for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as Digital Director and for Senator Lisa Murkowski. Before coming to D.C., she spearheaded digital strategy for Murkowski's successful Senate write-in campaign in 2010. Schaper enjoys traveling and taking in the local culture alongside her husband, their son and loyal springer spaniel.
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