Industry Leaders Say It’s Only The Beginning for Frac Sand Industry

Anti-fracking advocates in Wisconsin may soon have their hands full, as the state’s silica sand is being eyed by the global market.
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    In this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 photo, frac sand destined for the oil and gas fields piles up at the EOG Resources Inc. processing plant in Chippewa Falls, Wisc.  Largely overlooked in the national debate over fracking is the emerging fight in the U.S. heartland over mining frac sand, which has grains of ideal size, shape, strength and purity. Mining companies say the work provides good jobs in rural areas, but some residents fear the increase in mining could harm human health and the environment. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

    In this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 photo, frac sand destined for the oil and gas fields piles up at the EOG Resources Inc. processing plant in Chippewa Falls, Wisc. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

    Wisconsinites battling the burgeoning silica sand mining industry in their state are part of a campaign larger than their borders, with industry plans to ship the state’s “frac sand” to locations as far away as South America and China.

    The shipments are part of a global shift toward fracking, a process that’s become more widespread due to new technology that injects a combination of the sand, chemicals and water to deep into the ground to break up and access previously unattainable oil and gas deposits.

    While the sand typically had been sent to frack-heavy areas throughout the U.S., including Pennsylvania, Colorado and Texas, one industry leader’s comment indicates that Wisconsin’s sand is being eyed by global markets.

    “Wisconsin is the global epicenter [of silica sand], and we’re just getting started,” Texas-based Superior Silica Sands CEO Richard Shearer said to a crowd of industry leaders gathered last week in Madison, Wis. for Wisconsin Freight Rail Day.

    It was a message met with applause among those who stand to gain from the billion-dollar industry, but for those living in the midst of the Wisconsin frac sand boom, it’s nothing to celebrate — decreased property values, pollution, noise and the removal of bluffs have led Wisconsin residents to speak out.

    And while it seemed the victory could be within reach for anti-frac sand advocates, the expanding market is pitting even more odds against residents fighting to save the land — and way of life — they love.

    According to the Cap Times, the message at the conference wasn’t one Wisconsin residents were hoping for: apparently, the industry is only in its freshmen stages, with plenty of room for growth and demand.

    “I honestly think the sky is the limit for you guys,” Rayola Dougher, senior economic advisor for the American Petroleum Institute said at the conference, according to the Cap Times.

    Gov. Scott Walker (R) was among those gathered at the frac sand industry conference, touting a message that the resource provides the state with an opportunity to capitalize on the fracking industry. At one point, he thanked “God and the glaciers” for the silica sand deposits of Wisconsin.

    In response to reporters’ questions regarding the negative impact on area residents, Walker treaded lightly, saying there’s a way to move the industry forward safely, all while assuring that the expansion of the industry in the state is of top priority.

    “For us, we want to make sure that it’s done safely and in an environmentally sound manner,” Walker told reporters. “But we do want to speed the [approval] process up. If we had this many manufacturers saying we can come in and create 50 or 75 jobs, we’d be turning cartwheels.”

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