With the booming hydrofracturing industry, demand for a special type of silica sand has skyrocketed. The sand – also called “frac sand” – is necessary to extract natural gas from shale deposits. Economically accessible frac sand resources exist primarily in a limited area of western Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota. The area includes part of the St. Croix River watershed.
Frac sand mining typically involves extensive land surface removal to harvest the underlying sand. Mining sites often must manage and contain silt-filled water from processing the sand or mining below the water table.
Significant noise and dust results from earth-moving equipment, trucks, other machinery, and sometimes even blasting. The average mine requires a hundred or more truck trips per day to haul the sand. When mining operations cease, and even with legally sufficient reclamation of the land, landscapes and drainage may be forever altered.
Impacts on the St. Croix
The impacts from frac sand mining can significantly and negatively affect the St. Croix River and its watershed. Impacts to the ecology and natural tranquility of the river system may include erosion, water pollution, and excessive noise. As a recent example, a frac sand mine located near the St. Croix River discharged a large amount of silt-ridden water into the otherwise clear waters of the river.
In combination with clogged traffic, worn roads, and a less tranquil community character, total mining impacts may discourage the many thousands of visitors who would otherwise enjoy the scenic riverway.
There is room for improvement in regulating frac sand mining to protect the St. Croix. Local governments originally adopted mining ordinances in the context of typically less intense gravel mining. Many such ordinances do not address the unique intensity and impacts of frac sand mining.
If the potential negative impacts are thoroughly considered and protected against, however, frac sand mining may productively coexist with other land uses in the St. Croix River watershed. To this end, SCRA will soon have model ordinances available that should adequately protect the valuable natural resources at stake.
We hope that our model ordinances—in combination with the great efforts of municipalities, counties, county associations, city associations, legislators, and others—will keep the St. Croix protected and available for many future generations to enjoy. Along with concerned citizens, SCRA will also continue to monitor existing frac sand mines and work to limit the negative impacts on the river and watershed.
SCRA MN Model Ordinance 2013
SCRA WI Model Ordinance 2013
WCA 1-9-2013 Meeting Minutes
DOT 2012.11.29 WCA
DNR Tom Woletz
Crispin Hayes Pierce Particulate Health Risks-12-12.pptx
Jean Durch Sand Pics Presentation 2012.pptx
John Ulizio WISA ambient silica 17Dec12.pptx
Kent Syverson WI Counties frac sand commision talk Dec 2012.pptx