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Expand chart
Data: EIA; Chart: Axios Visuals 

America's oil and gas boom is fueling the rise of a lesser-known energy central to the plastics in our lives: ethane.

The big picture: Ethane, a colorless and odorless gas produced alongside natural gas, is the single largest type of raw material in North America for petrochemicals, the building blocks of plastics. America is consuming and exporting ethane in record quantities.

Driving the news: Last week, ExxonMobil and Saudi Arabia-based SABIC got final approval to build in Texas what will be one of the world’s largest facilities processing ethane — with a $10 billion price tag, per The Houston Chronicle.

By the numbers:

  • Domestic demand for ethane has grown rapidly. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects it will reach 1.7 million barrels per day by year’s end, an 83% increase over 2012.
  • Seven new petrochemical plants have come online in the U.S. since early 2017, with at least a couple more expected this year, per the EIA.
  • Exports of ethane have grown from nothing in 2013 to more than 250,000 barrels a day in 2018. EIA projects these exports to increase by another 50% this year. (The only other country that exports ethane, Norway, does about a quarter of that.)
  • Global petrochemical demand will keep growing above GDP growth until 2028 partly due to the growth in e-commerce — think: all those Amazon packages, which require a lot of plastic — according to the research and consultancy firm Wood MacKenzie.
  • Then at that point, various mandates and bans being imposed around the world will push petrochemical demand below GDP growth, the consultancy projects.

The intrigue: This boom in petrochemicals is coming right as the global outcry intensifies over plastic waste.

Go deeper: Axios' Deep Dive on our plastic planet

Go deeper

Updated 32 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Giuliani associate Lev Parnas convicted of campaign finance crimes

Lev Parnas, a former associate of then-President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Officials warn 5 key tech sectors will determine whether China overtakes U.S.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. intelligence officials responsible for protecting advanced technologies have narrowed their focus to five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, semiconductors and autonomous systems.

Why it matters: China and Russia are employing a variety of legal and illegal methods to undermine and overtake U.S. dominance in these critical industries, officials warned in a new paper. Their success will determine "whether America remains the world’s leading superpower or is eclipsed by strategic competitors."