Study: How to Mine Frac Sand Without Damaging Infrastructure

Published October 14, 2015

CHICAGO (October 14) – A new Policy Study from The Heartland Institute addresses the potential impacts of frac sand mining on public roadways. The study provides an overview of successful methods used to minimize potential damage to roadways while maximizing the benefits of industrial sand mining to the community. 

The study, titled “Roadway Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining,” is the third in a series by Heartland Institute Research Fellow Isaac Orr and geologist Mark Krumenacher, who is senior principal and senior vice president of GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc., addressing the mining of industrial silica sand, known as “frac sand.” The sand is abundant in the Upper Midwest – especially rural Wisconsin, which produces two-thirds of the nation’s frac sand – and is essential for hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas.

“Industrial sand mining has been a big economic stimulus to Western Wisconsin,” said Orr. “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. Now, thousands of people have high-paying jobs in the area.

“Oil and natural gas currently account for 35 and 28 percent of our total energy consumption, respectively, and we will continue to need increasing amounts of these resources in the future,” Orr continued. “Shale gas already accounts for 40 percent 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.”

Orr and Krumenacher write: “Because local units of government generally have the primary regulatory responsibility for industrial sand mining in the Midwest, this Policy Study is written especially for them and the constituents they serve.”

Among the authors’ findings:

  • Local officials have the statutory authority and adequate tools to protect public infrastructure used by industrial sand operations and other industries.
  • Industrial sand operators have spent millions of dollars upgrading and maintaining local and county roadways to meet their needs for transporting industrial sand and providing safe and efficient transportation for members of the community.

The authors discuss the main factors that influence the lifespan of a road; examine a case study of road upkeep and maintenance agreements from Chippewa County, Wisconsin; and consider the historical impacts of transporting industrial sand in four Midwest states.

Download a free PDF of this new Heartland Institute Policy Study at this link.

The first report, released in May 2015, addresses the environmental impacts of frac sand mining. Download that Heartland Institute Policy Study at this link.

The second report, released in June 2015, examines the economic benefits of frac sand mining. Download that Heartland Institute Policy Study at this link.

To speak to either of the authors of this Policy Study, please contact Director of Communications Jim Lakely at [email protected] and 312/377-4000.

The Heartland Institute is a 31-year-old national nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. For more information, visit our Web site or call 312/377-4000.