Frac sand boom creates thousands of jobs
2012 Frac Sand Facilities in Wisconsin
What will the sand mining industry look like in Wisconsin in 30 years? Some of the small sites will be completely mined and reclaimed in a few years, according to permit applications, while most of the larger facilities with processing plants estimate they have 15 to 25 years of sand reserves. The demand for Wisconsin’s sand directly follows the demand for oil and natural gas, according to Thomas Dolley, a mineral commodity specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “I’ve heard rumors that things are flattening out a bit, but I don’t think it (hydraulic fracturing) is going away anytime soon,” Dolley said. In Wisconsin, many industry experts believe that the state is nearing the peak of new mine development and that established, corporate mining companies will soon out-compete the smaller operations.
Currently, there are no official employment numbers for the state’s rapidly expanding frac sand industry. But the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, using job-site estimates developed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, found that when existing mines and those being built are fully operating, the industry will employ about 2,780 people — a sizeable number given the state’s overall luckluster job picture.
Frac sand fever has hit much of west-central Wisconsin, catching residents and local governments by surprise when demand for sand suddenly soared and permit applications began to pour in. The number of Wisconsin frac sand mining operations has more than doubled in the past year.
There’s a new wrinkle in Wisconsin’s fast-growing frac sand mining: It turns out that an endangered butterfly, the Karner blue, lives in the same region. And some companies may be failing to check for the butterfly as they move ahead with mining operations.
This western Wisconsin community is in the midst of a land rush — call it a sand rush — fueled by exploding nationwide demand for fine silica sand used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas. At least 16 frac sand mines and processing facilities are operating, and an additional 25 sites are proposed, in a diagonal swath stretching across 15 Wisconsin counties from Burnett to Columbia, the Center has found.