As a domestic energy boom driven by hydraulic fracturing spreads, so could strip-mining for sand needed for the controversial production process, introducing risks to water, air, public health and property values, according to a report issued Thursday.
Sand mining has exploded across the bluffs and farmland of western Wisconsin, touching off a groundswell of resistance from the region's small towns that seek to better control the process and its effect. The demand for sand could open up areas of a dozen other states to sand mining too, from Maine to Iowa, including northern Illinois, according to the report.
Produced by the Civil Society Institute, based in Boston, the Environmental Working Group and Midwest Environmental Advocates, the report is based on state and local information, mostly from Wisconsin and Minnesota, peer-reviewed research and interviews with residents who live near mines. There are 164 working sand mines and related facilities in the two states, with 20 more on the drawing board, said Grant Smith, one of the authors.
Mining companies get the sand by blasting chunks off the region's rolling hillsides and washing away the other soil and rock. Nearly every step of the process poses problems for surrounding communities, the authors wrote.
Washing the sand to separate it from debris uses prodigious amounts of water, often more than the municipal water systems in the counties where mines are located, the report found.
Nearly 58,000 people live within half a mile of sand mines and related facilities, Environmental Working Group found.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources declined to comment as it had not had a chance to review the report. Minnesota regulators did not comment.
The oil and gas industry is expected to use about 95 billion pounds of sand for fracking this year, a 30% increase from last year, said the report, citing industry analysts. Wisconsin is expected to produce 36 million tons of sand this year and 50 million tons by about 2017, the report estimated.