Although crude oil is a source of raw material (feedstock) for making plastics, it is not the major source of feedstock for plastics production in the United States. Plastics are produced from natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is unable to determine the specific amounts or origin of the feedstocks that are actually used to manufacture plastics in the United States.
Petrochemical feedstock naphtha and other oils refined from crude oil are used as feedstocks for petrochemical crackers that produce the basic building blocks for making plastics. EIA data can only identify those oil-derived feedstocks specifically designated as petrochemical feedstock by petroleum refineries in EIA’s refining surveys, which break out into Naphtha For Petrochemical Feedstock Use and Other Oils For Petrochemical Feedstock Use. However, the petrochemical industry also consumes large quantities of hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGLs).
The majority of HGLs produced in the United States are byproducts of natural gas processing, and the rest are produced at crude oil/petroleum refineries. The HGLs produced by U.S. petroleum refineries contain both alkanes and olefins. Alkanes can be used as feedstock for petrochemical crackers, whereas refinery olefins, primarily propylene, but also minor quantities of ethylene and butylenes, can be used as direct inputs into plastics manufacturing. Because the petrochemical industry has a high degree of flexibility in the feedstock it consumes and because EIA does not collect detailed data on this aspect of industrial consumption, it is not possible for EIA to identify the actual amounts and origin of the materials used as inputs by industry to manufacture plastics.
Last reviewed: June 1, 2021