2011: Frac sand mining takes off in WisconsinSand mining has been part of Wisconsin for nearly a century, but the industry reached new levels in 2011.
By: By Chuck Quirmbach, Wisconsin Public Radio, Superior Telegram
Sand mining has been part of Wisconsin for nearly a century, but the industry reached new levels in 2011.
Frac sand is made up of hard and round grains, which makes it perfect for what is known as fracture drilling. That's where frac sand, water and chemicals are pumped into oil wells at high pressure to fracture rock formations releasing oil and gas. State Geologist Bruce Brown says frac sand from western Wisconsin is some of the best in the biz and this year companies looking to mine it came calling.
"We saw a really huge increase in interest during 2011,” he said. “It's almost what you could call a sand rush or a sand boom and people compared it to the gold rush."
Brown says companies have been racing to find the sand deposits, buy up or lease property and build processing facilities. He says it's hard to know how many frac sand operations there are in the state but the Department of Natural Resources estimates there are 34. But Brown doesn't expect the rush to last.
"Within a year or two this is going to settle down and by that I mean we're going to come to equilibrium where production as it's coming on line is going to catch up with the demand," he said.
Pat Popple lives in Chippewa County which now has six sand mining operations. She's been a leading voice of opposition to frac sand mining. Popple says people were caught off guard by the mines but now citizens are taking part in public hearings for new ones.
"It's an awakening and for me that's a good thing, to see that there are more and more people thinking, 'Gee, we should ask questions about this and we should find out more,'" she said.
Popple says frac sand companies are still seeking permits and she expects plenty of mining activity in 2012.