Roadway Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining

Published September 18, 2015

As many as 9,000 non-metallic mines operate in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin – approximately one mine for every 3,000 residents. Until recently, those mines have operated without opposition. But industrial sand mining recently has become a more contentious issue as environmental groups have taken note of the growing number of mines meeting the growing demand for the industrial silica sand used in oil and natural gas development, referred to as “frac sand.”

In this Policy Study, the third in a series addressing frac sand mining topics, Heartland Institute Research Fellow Isaac Orr and Mark Krumenacher, a senior principal and senior vice president of GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc., specifically address the potential impacts of frac sand mining on public roadways. They 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. It addresses the potential impacts of industrial sand operations on the public roadways and provides an overview of successful methods used to minimize those potential drawbacks while maximizing the benefits of industrial sand mining to the community.

Orr and Krumenacher 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. They conclude,

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.