Sand Land: Frac Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin - Video Report by DeSmogBlog

Read time: 3 mins

The rush to drill for unconventional gas, enabled by a process popularly known as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, has brought with it much collateral damage. Close observers know about contaminated water, earthquakes, and climate change impacts of the shale gas boom, but few look at the entire life cycle of fracking from cradle to grave.

Until recently, one of the most underlooked facets of the industry was the “cradle” portion of the shale gas lifecycle: frac sand mining in the hills of northwestern Wisconsin and bordering eastern Minnesota, areas now serving as the epicenter of the frac sand mining world.

The silence on the issue ended after several good investigative stories were produced by outlets in the past year or so, such as Wisconsin WatchPR WatchThe Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated PressThe Wall Street JournalOrionEcoWatch, and most recently, Tom Dispatch. These various articles, all well worth reading, explain the land grab currently unfolding in the Midwest and the ecological damage that has accompanied it

To put it bluntly, there could be no shale gas extraction without the sand. As Tom Dispatch's Ellen Cantarow recently explained,

That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere. Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas. Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.

Frac sand, which consists of fine-grained sillica, can cause the respiratory illness, silicosis. Washing the frac sand in preparation for the fracking process is also a water intensive process, particularly threatening in the age of increasing water scarcity in the United States and around the world.

“The state's water supplies are also threatened as sand mining destroys sandstone formations which serve as giant filters for local aquifers.” Sara Jerving of PR Watch wrote. “The mining process can use thousands of gallons of water which can also deplete aquifers.”

The “frac sand rush” has been an uphill battle for small towns and municipalities that are trying to fight, or at the very least, attempt to negotiate with large corporations, with compartively little governmental oversight to deal with corporate behemoths such as EOG Resources, mirroring in many important ways the shale gas rush.

Cities and concerned citizens have done their best to keep up with the boom, but have no precedent to look for, no previous legislation to protect themselves, their infrastructure (see: roads and heavy trucks rolling through), their groundwater and their air.

Enter “Sand Land”

To further introduce the world to the impacts of frac sand mining, DeSmogBlog presents “Sand Land,” a short video report filmed and produced by Milwaukee, WI by photo-journalist and film-maker, Spencer Chumbley of 414 Wire, co-reported on with DeSmogBlog Research Fellow, Steve Horn. The film serves as a short audio-visual primer on the issue.

We encourage you to watch and share it with friends, colleagues, and family.


Stay tuned for much more to come from DeSmogBlog on one particularly powerful sand-mining corporation, EOG Resources, formerly known as the now infamous Enron Oil and Gas, a little explored fossil fuel industry giant that does it all: frac sand miningfrackingpipelines, and LNG terminals.

Image credit: Sara Jerving | PRWatch

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The sand mines have produced sand for other purposes before fracking came along, including glass making. Before the current boom, there were 5 mines and 5 processing facilities. Now, there are 63 mines and 36 processing facilities. There are no state permits required, each county handles it on their own. All they need is a reclamation plan. At a minimum, the counties and state need to beef up their inspections, given the 10-fold increase in the number of mines.

Last month, one of the new frac sand mines spilled their waste sand & silt into a creek that contaminated the Saint Croix River:


Oh come on, “prehistoric sand”? Are you kidding me? ALL rock (and sand) is prehistoric, unless it just recently was spewed out of a volcano and cooled.

You guys are just grasping here. I mean, is there ever any good news to come from this blog other than being happy when your enemies (Heartland, are down?

You’re just increasing the credibility gap evry time you post another article like this, don’t you see? Your almost as bad as Joe Romm’s Climate Progress now, and that is most definitely NOT a compliment.

I read a ton of Climate related news on both sides of the debate every day and I’m really shocked at the marked increase in rheoric on the pro-warmist side. At least WUWT tries to report some of the science now and then.


I kinda agree…  Apart from your last 2 paragraphs.

I mean… sand or no sand… A big company shows up, it will leave a mess.  Pick an industry. Fracing is just a side show.

In the same vain.. increased warm weather (Climate Change) brings people in the way of gun fire.  But I’d be loath to write about it in that light.


There’s an API PDF out there that goes into it. Sand that was formed less than 60 million years avoid usually not spherical enough. Only 2 or 3 formations in the USA can produce sand that they can use. It is a limited resource. How limited? That’s a question the regulators should ask.

A lot of the concern seems to be with potential threats to aquifers and runoff of silt from processing plants. Oh, and the copious amounts of water di
verted from the water cycle.

New sand, separate particles of quartz and sometimes other minerals, is being formed all the time along certain seacoasts.  The waves pound rocks against each other and the quartz particles fall out of the slowly dissolving matrix of other, less stable, minerals.

Before being so disassociated, the parent rock, being a mixture of various minerals, has another name.  For example granite is a mixure of quartz and feldspar usually with a little magnitite or mica.  The feldspars are unstable in the presense of water, eventually weathering into clay.