Although the May 23 New York Times article on hydraulic fracturing, “The Sand Mines That Ruin Farmland,” is an interesting read, it is by no means an accurate one. Author Nancy Loeb relies on unsubstantiated claims in order to push forth her own liberal agenda. Hydraulic fracturing is not the monster that Loeb makes it out to be.
Having grown up on the same farm where my grandfather was born in 1930, nothing makes my heart sink faster than seeing quality farmland disappear. It’s important, however, to understand the reality of the situation: Frac sand, oil, and natural gas must be harvested to meet the needs of our society, and these needs are being met in an environmentally responsible way.
Many critics of fracking seem to think the world can run on solar and wind power alone, and that oil and natural gas are unnecessary to fuel our cars (and farm equipment), keep the lights on at our schools, and power lifesaving equipment at our hospitals. Those notions are simply untrue. According to the Energy Information Administration, the United States generates just 0.4 percent of our total energy from solar power and 1.4 percent from wind energy. Together, these two forms of energy produce less energy than burning wood (2.2 percent).
Natural gas, by contrast, accounts for 28 percent of the nation’s total energy use, and oil accounts for another 35 percent. In order to produce oil and natural gas in the United States, we need to use hydraulic fracturing and, as a result, frac sand.
Hydraulic fracturing is used to extract 51 percent of the oil and 67 percentof the natural gas produced in the United States. Without this technology, it would be significantly more expensive to heat our homes, drive our cars, and power our hospitals. We would also be more dependent on foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Venezuela. It makes more sense to put Americans to work developing these resources at home than to import them from abroad.
Unfortunately, Loeb makes claims about the alleged dangers of silica sand mining without providing proper supporting evidence. However, the Institute for Wisconsin’s Health conducted a health impact assessment of sand mining in Wisconsin and concluded that silica sand operations do not pose a threat to people living near these facilities. While it is true that small particles of silica dust are an occupational health hazard, there are already strict regulations in place to protect workers from ailments such as silicosis.
The facts on water consumption provide similarly good news. Statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources show sand mines used only 0.09 percent of all the water consumed in the state in 2013. Agricultural irrigation used 55 times more water than silica sand mining. In addition, many industrial sand facilities recycle up to 90 percent of the water used.
The berms of topsoil Loeb refers to in passing are used to store the soil for later use so it can be reapplied to the land during the reclamation process when mining is complete, which she fails to mention. This practice helps restore the productivity of agricultural land while greatly reducing the potential impact of these mines on neighboring property values.
Those concerned about disappearing farmland would have better luck protesting the construction of strip malls, subdivisions, and superstores because these developments pose a far greater threat to farmland than sand mining. In fact, from 2007 to 2013, more than three million acres of U.S. farmland were converted into developments, and sand mining accounted for only a tiny fraction of this conversion. In addition, once farmland is paved over for housing, it is essentially gone for good, but sand mines can be reclaimed for other purposes after mining has been completed.
Finally, agriculture simply cannot be conducted without oil and natural gas. Tractors, combines, and the other heavy machinery used on farms run on gasoline and diesel fuel. The nitrogen-based fertilizer used to increase farm yields is made from natural gas. These sources of energy, and the people who work to produce them, are just as vital in ensuring we all have enough to eat as tractors and the farmers who drive them. Far from ruining the nation’s farms, fracking is a boon to agriculture.