Hydraulic fracturing in shale formations requires large quantities of frac sand and mining it has become big business, especially in Wisconsin, according to a new study from The Heartland Institute.
The study, titled “Economic Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining,” is the second in a series by Heartland Institute Research Fellow Isaac Orr and geologist Mark Krumenacher, who is principal and senior vice president of GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc., addressing the mining of industrial silica sand.
Frac sand is abundant in the Upper Midwest – especially rural Wisconsin, which produces two-thirds of U.S. frac sand.
“When I started college at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire in 2006, people there were still talking about how the town had never really recovered from the UniRoyal Tire factory closing in town, even though the tire factory closed in 1991,” said Orr.
“Now, thousands of people have high-paying jobs in the area.”
Orr and Krumenacher note that Wisconsin, “has strong agricultural and tourism sectors and therefore provides valuable insight into claims industrial sand mining could negatively affect these industries.”
“Oil and natural gas currently account for 35 and 28% of our total energy consumption, respectively, and we will continue to need increasing amounts of these resources in the future,” Orr said.
“Shale gas already accounts for 40% of our total natural gas production, and this figure is likely to grow, meaning frac sand mining will continue to be an important part of the Western Wisconsin economy for decades to come.”
The benefits of silica sand mining include high-paying opportunities for employment, increasing regional economic activity, generating tax revenues for state and local governments, and improving economic diversity in rural communities that rely heavily on agriculture for household income.
Highlights of the study:
- Studies conducted by regulatory bodies and research groups have conclusively shown silica sand mining operations do not increase the concentrations of silica sand particles in the ambient air downwind of such operations.
- Water use data show silica sand mining operations consume a small fraction of state-wide water resources.
- The existing local, state, and federal regulatory structure is designed to ensure silica sand mining – and myriad other industrial operations – is conducted in a manner that ensures compliance with air and water quality standards, and thus protects human health and the environment.
- The increase in silica sand mining has had substantial economic and employment benefits in the states that have benefitted from the silica sand mining boom.
Orr and Krumenacher conclude silica sand mining can be done in a safe and environmentally responsible manner with the proper oversight and environmental protections. State and local governments have done a commendable job working with environmental and industry leaders to craft legislation that protects the environment while permitting industrial sand production to move forward. Regulations crafted to specifically regulate industrial sand mining would be duplicative, resulting in higher costs without tangibly increasing environmental protections.
The Heartland Institute is an American conservative and libertarian non-profit public policy think tank founded in 1984 and based in Chicago.