Plastic. It’s used in so many things, in so many ways, and most of us never stop to think about where it all comes from. Cell phone housings, water bottles, car parts and countless other products are made from building blocks that can only be extracted from oil and natural gas.


Both oil and natural gas can be refined to make hundreds of types of plastics. Here, we’ll look at what’s involved in transforming natural gas from underground formations into solid plastic products we depend on every day.

Step One: Drilling

Once reserves have been located, a drilling rig is set up to bore deep beneath the surface. Vertical or horizontal drilling rigs are used to reach formations rich in natural gas.

Step Two: Transporting

Natural gas is released from formations, brought to the surface compressed and pumped through hundreds of miles of pipelines to various refineries for processing.

Step Three: Refining

First, natural gas is separated into methane and ethane. Methane is used as fuel for gas stoves and for heating homes. Ethane is heated to release hydrogen and yield pure ethylene in a process known as ‘cracking.’

Step Four: Raw Plastic

Ethylene is pumped via pipes to another plant where it undergoes a second reaction, which forms polyethylene powder. This powder is then heated and formed into pellets, which can be used to make… well, just about anything.

It’s hard to imagine life without any plastics. So next time you answer your cell phone or pick up a water bottle, take pride in Oklahoma’s natural resources and what it takes to convert them into all the things we use every day.




EnergyHQ is powered by the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board – OERB – which is voluntarily funded by the state's oil and natural gas producers and royalty owners. The OERB provides free environmental restoration of abandoned well sites and works to educate the state's citizens about the oil and natural gas industry. For more on the OERB's mission and how it is funded, visit OERB.com.