Study shows economic value of frac sand
By Andrew Macklin
June 9, 2015 – A new policy study from The Heartland Institute in the U.S. shows industrial sand mining has been “a significant driver of economic growth across the Upper Midwest.” If done in an environmentally responsible manner, the study finds, “it can be an important source of employment and earnings for decades to come.”
The study, titled “Economic Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining,” is the second in a series by Heartland Institute Research Fellow Isaac Orr and geologist Mark Krumenacher, who is 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 per cent 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.”
Demand for frac sand has led many counties and municipalities to process applications for new mines and processing facilities. Policymakers and citizens in these communities need the information in this new Heartland Policy Study to make informed decisions about the economic benefits and costs of industrial sand mining.
They should know:
- The benefits of silica sand mining include high-paying opportunities for employment, increasing regional economic activity, generating tax revenues for state and local governments, and improving economic diversity in rural communities that rely heavily on agriculture for household income.
- The costs include asserted negative effects on tourism and agriculture, and whether mining might result in “boom or bust” economic cycles and may thus not be a sound foundation for long-term economic prosperity.
The authors focused their analysis on Wisconsin, the largest producer of industrial silica sand in the U.S., noting the state “has strong agricultural and tourism sectors and therefore provides valuable insight into claims industrial sand mining could negatively affect these industries.”
Download a free PDF of this new Heartland Institute Policy Study.