Water & sand, or, Not a day at the beach, part 2

From http://www.answers.com/topic/industrial-sand:

Fracturing Sand. Fracturing or hydraulic “frac” sand, also known as “proppant” sand, accounted for 5 percent of U.S. industrial sand production in 2003. It is comprised of washed and graded high silica-content quartz sand with a grain size of between 0.84 and 0.42 millimeters and is used in high-pressure fluids pumped into oil and gas wells to enlarge or scour out openings in oil-or gas-bearing rock or to create new fractures from which oil or gas can be recovered. Traditionally, the “fracture treatment” at an average well* uses 26,000 pounds of fracture sand, and annual demand for fracture sand increases or decreases with the level of activity in the oil and gas industry.

*un-naturalgas.org notes: the sand volume requirement for a horizontally-drilled, high-volume hydraulically fractured gas well wold be much higher than that for the “average well” cited.

Where does all that frac sand come from?

From places where people live.

Concerned Chippewa Citizens, Chippewa, Wisconsin, says:

“Canadian Sand and Proppants will construct 5 smoke stacks so they can legally distribute as much as 56 pounds per hour of really fine particulate matter over Chippewa Falls and the surrounding areas. The DNR says two will be 51 feet high and three will be 96 feet high. This will distribute the dust far and wide. This 56 pound limit includes only the smaller size of dust ~ the size you can’t see but can breathe into your lungs. There will be additional dust of a larger size ~ too big to breathe into your lungs, but capable of being a nuisance. The 56 pounds per hour does not include escaped or “fugitive” dust that will come from trucks hauling sand on Highway S, the multiple storage piles of sand on the property, and other sources that mining companies don’t have to count due to a special free pass. The company is supposed to operate and maintain filters to keep the amount of dust less than 56 pounds per hour, but they don’t want to do any monitoring of the air that will let citizens know how well the system is working.

“Our City Council and Planning Commission are expediting the construction of this huge processing plant. The city floated a $1.75 million bond (loan) as an incentive to lure this foreign company to build in our quiet city. Canadian Sand and Proppant Inc. doesn’t have to start paying back the $1.75 million dollar loan until 2011 and then they have ten years to do it. In addition they won’t have to start paying any taxes for 6.5 years. It’s a really good deal for them.”


More of the story, as reported by Wisconsin Public Radio and Fox 21:

Western Wisconsin sand mining goes against the grain for some residents

By Mary Jo Wagner, Wisconsin Public Radio

EAU CLAIRE (WPR) Many of the hills in western Wisconsin are turning out to be valuable to oil and gas drilling companies.  But some in Chippewa County are fighting plans to mine the sand there.

As the country looks for ways to become less dependent on oil from the Middle East, companies drilling for natural gas and oil in the U.S and Canada need ways to squeeze the most out of underground reserves.  That’s where “frac” sand comes in.  It’s pumped underground during drilling to keep rock fractures from closing up.

Canadian Sand and Proppant has an agreement with two farmers in Chippewa County to mine frac sand for more than 40 years.   Sand would be trucked to a new processing plant near a rail line in Chippewa Falls.

. . . . .

What is it about the sand in western Wisconsin that’s getting attention?  UW-Eau Claire geology professor Kent Syverson has studied the land features of Chippewa County

“The reason why we have these sand deposits here in western Wisconsin is because we used to have mountains. And over millions of years those mountains disappeared and what was left behind was quartz sand.”

Professor Syverson says valuable frac sand is medium sized and rounded.  It’s also much stronger than the fine sand used to make glass.   In some parts of western Wisconsin he says it’s very deep in the ground.

“But in Chippewa, Dunn and Jackson County, there we have these sandstones right at the surface making them easy to mine.”

Too easy, according to mining opponents like Ken Schmitt.  He claims that air quality, ground water, and property values will be hurt by mining and the increased truck traffic.   His beef farm is next to the first mine sites and possibly competing ones.

”Between Barron and Chippewa, there’s three other companies with thirteen attached mines that were looking before the price of oil dropped…and doesn’t count the three or four mines associated with Canadian Sand here…and it’s going to eat up a lot of farmland,” says Schmitt.

Beth Walton objects to the proposed processing plant in Chippewa Falls because of health concerns and how it will affect tenants in her nearby apartment building.  She’s part of the group, Concerned Chippewa Citizens, that’s filed a lawsuit

“The decision to grant a conditional land use permit to Canadian sand was not handled through the proper procedures or with the proper amount of due diligence, fact finding,” says Walton.

Concerned Chippewa Citizen’s lawsuit goes to court in April.

Two years ago, a group of nearby Dunn County citizens stopped a Texas company from leveling Hoffman Hills. That was in part because the town’s Smart Growth — or comprehensive long range plan — spelled out that mining didn’t fit with the landscape.  However in Chippewa County, Ken Schmitt says state mandated plans have not been finished.

“Up until last June, the people in the town of Howard had no idea that what we had was desirable anywhere on this scale,” says Schmitt.

Professor Syverson says this is an example of the trade-offs that’ll be required if the country wants to be energy independent.   Plant manager Stone says financing for the project is still up in the air and lower prices for foreign oil are complicating things, but he hopes to start mining within the year and put more than 50 people to work.

“Why do our kids grow up and move away? Because they can’t find jobs – well, if industry’s and jobs aren’t being brought into the area, there’s nothing for them to do.”

But in the rural areas, Ken Schmitt says only the mine site land owners will benefit financially.

Noted by Fox21: Information from Wisconsin Public Radio, www.wpr.org


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