Travis Dewitz | Midwest Editorial & Commercial Photographer » Photography Projects, Works of Art, and Environmental Portraits

Wisconsin Frac Sand Mining

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In a small rural school in Western Wisconsin, educators work tirelessly to meet the demanding and ever-changing needs of its’ school children. Often times this is done while facing glooming budget cuts and fewer resources then they have had in the past. After school programs are on the chopping block all too frequently, but sometimes in the unlikeliest of places, partnerships are formed to ensure the academic success of our children along with economic prosperity of our state. Recently, funding was needed to secure necessary staff, resources, and educational materials for an academic after school program. Educators wrote a grant to a local sand mine and were incredibly grateful to be gifted the ten thousand dollars needed so protect its future for the next two years. Stories like this are heard around the state from schools who find backing in sand mines. Schools can’t advance this work alone, we must collaborate together to ensure every child can succeed. The children of our state and other states are counting on all of us to fiercely advocate for them.

Wisconsin is experiencing rapid expansion in their frac sand mines. Sand mining is an intricate part of the state’s history for over a hundred years and has been mined since the arrival of the first permanent settlers. Mining of this sand has been useful in glass making, molds, and the petroleum industry. The latest widespread rise in sand mining is due to the recent technological breakthroughs in extracting oil and gas. The demand for frac sand has increased exponentially in the past three years. The hydraulic fracturing industry has placed a high price on Wisconsin’s pure, round silica sand. This record rate of growth has resulted in a boom or “sand rush” in frac and sand mining. Similar to the “gold oil rush” in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Texas are facing an industrial mining boom because of the demand from large oil companies for silica sand. This has brought about big changes to rural life and scenic landscapes in the state of Wisconsin; once quiet agricultural lands are now the sites of industrial mining and created quite an interest amongst varies parties. – continue below

Wisconsin has one of the largest deposits of frac sand in the country and is currently being mined from sandstone formations in much of western and central Wisconsin. In the eastern and southern parts of the state the same formations are less well exposed and generally more fine-grained. These mines are becoming increasingly prevalent as hydrofracking becomes more popular nationwide. Hydrofracking is the technique used by the petroleum industry to extract natural gas and/or crude oil from rock formations, which requires a certain quality of sand in the process. Wisconsin has a high prevalence of the ever sought after silica sand; the key ingredient for fracking sites in other parts of the country. The sand found in Wisconsin is ideal for fracking because several of the geologic formations meet these specifications and originate near the surface. Sand from younger glacial deposits as well as most beach and riverbank sand is too impure and too angular to be used as frac sand. Wisconsin has brilliant sandstone deposits that are hard, nearly pure quartz, well-rounded and uniformly-sized sand particles. These types of silica sands are unique to Western Wisconsin and are the jewel for frac sands as this has made Wisconsin’s silica sands highly profitable as of late.
Railroads are the preferred method of transporting sand from the mine or from the processing plant, rail depots or to the final location. The degree of road deterioration is determined by how heavily traveled the roads are, the type of vehicles used, and the design of the road.

All of this beauty in the sand is quickly overshadowed by the cultural turmoil that dirties the vision through a split public opinion. The question of whether frac sand mining is the right choice is far from being decided and in many cases is the center of community forums. The subject of sand mining in Wisconsin has generated interest from regulators, legislators, local government and the general public. Mining has been a powerful way to strengthen the economy and bring jobs that otherwise may not have been. Sand mining is an economic boom for on-site industry and has created thousands of sought after jobs in the state. Stronger environmental standards and regulations are necessary to ensure all safety aspects are in place and being followed to protect the health of the public and the environment. It is considered an un-welcome disruption by some due to the blasting, drilling, wildlife leaving the area, truck and train traffic, and light pollution from mines that seem to operate around the clock. The elements of dust from the extraction, transporting and wind release of silica is a constant reminder that mining is here to stay; not to mention that frac sand companies are withdrawing large amounts of water from aquifers, and storm-water and wastewater discharges puts the safety of drinking water and ecosystems in jeopardy.

There are thousands of Wisconsin families employed by companies involved in the sand mining industry as sand mines are making significant and multimillion-dollar investments in areas across Wisconsin. It speaks volumes about their impact as responsible sand mining is generating millions of dollars in new tax revenues, which in turn, relieves some of the pressure from local property taxpayers. The economic impact is regarded as positive; hundreds of millions of dollars have been generated in state and local communities and is very visible in communities where mining and processing are ongoing. As new facilities emerge, hiring and job creation associated with sand mining creates new tax revenues, generates more revenues for local governments; and county governments gain undeniable benefits to increased property tax revenues. Millions of dollars have been donated across the state from sand mines to various schools in educational grants and monies to support non-profit organizations along with countless volunteer hours. Sand mines have been an important player in contributing time, money and invaluable resources as they continue their path to have a neighborly partnership. These investments in local schools and community organizations, helps solidify the path to prosperity for our children, our citizens, and our future. – written by Erika Johnson

Frac sand mines are coming to life all across Wisconsin at a record rate. Like the latest oil rush in North Dakota, Wisconsin, along with other northern states, is facing an industrial mining boom, being dubbed the “sand rush” because of the new demand from large oil companies for silica sand. Sand mining in Wisconsin is nothing new to the state which has been mined for more than 100 years. Mining minerals has always been a large part of our Wisconsin’s history. Wisconsin has one of the largest deposits of Frac Sand in the country which comes from Sandstone formations. This sand been mined for years for use in glass making, molds, and the petroleum industry. The recent rise in sand mining was caused by the recent technological breakthroughs in extracting oil and gas. The latest oil rush has been based around Williston, North Dakota even though fracking is done all over the United States. In all reality, Frac Sand is really silica beach sand that is a specific grain size, smooth, hard, and round which is ideal for hydraulic fracturing. The sand found in Wisconsin is ideal for fracking because several of our geologic formations meet these specifications and are found near the surface. The ideal sand used for fracking must be nearly pure quartz, very well rounded, extremely hard, and of uniform size. Once the sand is mined, it needs to be washed, sorted, and dried. Much of the sand is also resin coated to dramatically strengthens each grain. The resin coating isn’t always applied where it is washed and sometimes needs to be shipped to a coating facility if one isn’t on site. I am for mining and strengthening our economy  but I agree environmental standards need to be followed. We also need to learn from our past in how to best manage the mine location and communities near the mines once there life cycle has been completed. Most of the main concerns are caused by the actual fracking process which  may be linked with contaminating water supplies.

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