Research & Commentary: Minnesota Frac Sand Mining

Published January 28, 2013

According to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, topping the list of environmental issues for the 2013 state legislative session is silica or “frac” sand mining. Frac sand has high compressive strength ideal for industrial use, including hydraulic fracturing.

Newly usable reserves of natural gas, enough to last the nation for generations, have sent demand for frac sand skyrocketing because it’s one of the main ingredients in the energy extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing. Since U.S. production of frac sand hasn’t been able to keep up with demand, an alternative ceramic material from China is being imported to cover the shortfall.

The United States has a large supply of high-quality frac sand in Wisconsin, particularly near the western region of the state and overlapping into eastern Minnesota. Some Minnesota residents are concerned about what the expansion of frac sand mining in Wisconsin could mean for their state, especially since Minnesota roads are used to transport Wisconsin sand to North Dakota oil fields.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has determined that state and local regulations are “adequate to ensure that permits for individual sand mining operations and processing facilities are protective of public health and the environment.”

Limiting or restricting access to this sand forces energy companies to resort to less-economical production choices, such as lower-quality sand from other states or expensive ceramic beads from China and Brazil. That eliminates job opportunities in Minnesota while raising energy costs nationwide.

According to Information Handling Services, Inc., Minnesota’s supplier networks, trade flows, and other economic activity related to frac sand mining supported 19,000 good-paying jobs in the state, and the number is expected to grow to 42,000 by 2035 – 1.2 percent of the state’s labor force. In 2012 the frac sand industry contributed nearly $2 billion in value-added economic activity, generating $260 million in state and local tax revenues. By 2035, economic activity is expected to grow to $4.7 billion.

Frac sand mining is a positive development for Minnesota and should be treated as such. Banning or overregulating any form of sand mining is unnecessary and inhibits job creation and tax revenues.

The following documents provide additional information about silica sand mining.


Ten Principles of Energy Policy
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast outlines the ten most important principles for policymakers confronting energy issues, providing guidance to help deal with ongoing changes in markets, technology, and policies adopted in other states, supported by a thorough bibliography.

Research & Commentary: Mining Regulation
Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith examines the role the mining industry plays in the economy and describes the most effective ways to regulate the industry. 

Research & Commentary: Silica (Frac) Sand Mining
Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith explains the role silica sand mining plays in the fracking industry and whether it merits concerns about environmental impact. 

Research & Commentary: Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of Natural Gas
Heartland Institute Senior Fellow James M. Taylor provides a primer on hydraulic fracturing, discussing the overstated environmental impact and providing a series of useful links to additional research on the topic. 

America’s New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil and Gas Revolution and the U.S. Economy
The energy and engineering consulting firm IHS, Inc. highlights the state economic contributions of unconventional oil and gas development. 

Silica Sand Mining in Wisconsin
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources summarizes the best current information on the silica sand mining process. The report states the current regulatory environment in Wisconsin is sufficient to protect the public and the environment as silica sand mining expands. 

The Economic Impact of Frac Sand Mining
Two economists from Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. analyze the economic impact of a silica sand mining expansion in Wood County, Wisconsin, which has plenty of the resource. Among the many findings, the authors conclude the mining expansion would create more than 600 jobs and $33 million in new earnings in just the first year.

Is Clay The Next Bakken Play? Ceramic Sand Could Be Made in North Dakota
The Bismarck Tribune reports on the potential for ceramic proppant beads – an alternative to silica sand – to be produced in North Dakota, thanks to the state’s generous clay deposits, instead of having to be imported from China, as they are currently.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Environment & Climate News Web site at, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland Institute Policy Analyst Taylor Smith at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.