A new study by The Heartland Institute finds states and localities in the Upper Midwest are effectively dealing with cases of excess road deterioration from increased heavy truck traffic related to frac sand mining.
Controversy Arose with Fracking
Until recently, up to 9,000 non-metallic mines operated in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, approximately one mine for every 3,000 residents, without significant opposition.
This changed beginning with widespread use of fracking to produce oil and gas across the nation. Fracking requires industrial silica sand, referred to as “frac sand,” and the best frac sand comes from select areas in the Midwest.
Residents of areas adjacent to frac sand mines and transportation routes have expressed concern the increased traffic from frac sand transportation could harm the roads they rely on.
No Major Impact
Two state agencies charged with maintaining state highways in the region of highest frac sand mining, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Wisconsin’s WisDot, have studied the impacts and found the additional stress placed on state roads from increased frac sand traffic is relatively minor.
The study found local authorities in areas of unusually high traffic from frac sand mining have negotiated road upkeep and maintenance agreements (RUMA) with mine operators. The RUMAs have resulted in industrial sand operators spending millions of dollars upgrading and maintaining local and county roadways to meet their needs for transporting industrial sand while providing safe and efficient transportation for other road users. Local authorities say RUMAs are usually an effective mechanism to maintain the roads.
“One of the largest concerns among locals in sand mining areas is the impact it will have on the roads,” said Heartland Institute Research Fellow Isaac Orr, who co-wrote the study with Mark Krumenacher, a senior principal and senior vice president of GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. The Heartland Institute also publishes Environment & Climate News.
“Among concerns about the potential environmental impacts of sand mining, this one is usually near the top of the list,” said Orr. “These are heavy trucks, and they can chew up a road not designed for that weight.
“Thankfully, what we’ve found is the roads have not been widely impacted, and local governments have been able to negotiate agreements with sand companies to make sure they are paying for any needed repairs along haul routes, and not the taxpayers,” Orr said.
Shifting Away from Roads
Orr says the impact on the roads is likely to decrease over time because about two-thirds of the price of sand at the wellhead is transportation cost, and shipping over roads is relatively expensive.
“You’re seeing more and more sand mining companies building along the railroads or building conveyor belts or slurry systems to reduce transportation costs,” Orr said. “As a result, the need to ship sand over the roads is decreasing.”
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
Isaac Orr and Mark Krumenacher, “Roadway Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining,” The Heartland Institute, September 18, 2015: https://heartland.org/policy-documents/roadway-impacts-industrial-silica-sand-frac-sand-mining