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The Gold Rush for Frac Sand in the Midwest

The Gold Rush for Frac Sand in the Midwest

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Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling process used by the oil and gas industry to extract
natural gas that is locked away in tight rock formations and buried deep within the earth. The process injects large quantities of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals under high pressure to break apart the rock and release the gas. Over the past decade, advances in fracking technologies have enabled the development of previously uneconomical sources of natural gas, so fracking has expanded rapidly. However, this expansion has faced increasing public resistance due to the resulting environmental pollution and public health problems.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a drilling process used by the oil and gas industry to extract
natural gas that is locked away in tight rock formations and buried deep within the earth. The process injects large quantities of water mixed with sand and toxic chemicals under high pressure to break apart the rock and release the gas. Over the past decade, advances in fracking technologies have enabled the development of previously uneconomical sources of natural gas, so fracking has expanded rapidly. However, this expansion has faced increasing public resistance due to the resulting environmental pollution and public health problems.

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Published by: Food and Water Watch on May 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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08/31/2012

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Process of Mining

Frac sand is a type of industrial sand — which is oftenreferred to as “silica sand” because of its high levels of sili-con dioxide (SiO
2
).
15
Frac sand is mined like other types of sand and gravel,
16
which typically entails an open pit usingstandard mining equipment.
17

procedure.
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It is washed so that clay can be removedfrom the sand grains.
19
More tightly bound clays andsilts need attrition scrubbing to free them from the silicagrains.
20
A desliming step follows to remove the clay.
21
 Following the wet processing, a dry processing stageoccurs where the sand is screened to ensure it meets

22
 Frac sand mining facilities can require large quantitiesof water just to wash the sand. An Enron Oil and Gassand mining facility in Texas that is slated to be up andrunning by November 2011 is projected to use 3,700gallons of water per minute and roughly 2 billiongallons annually.
23
In Wisconsin, it has been estimatedthat a high-capacity well at a mine site will use 200million gallons of water annually for sand washing,which could strain limited groundwater resources innearby communities.
24
Quality of Life and Health Concerns
Communities near frac sand mines and processing plantshave fears about how this new industry impacts theirquality of life, citing concerns about noise pollution,decreased property values, water contamination, road

local roads.
25
 Residents also worry about health problems from frac sandmining and processing,
26
particularly due to air pollution.A potentially deadly particulate called crystalline silica,
27
 a known human carcinogen when inhaled,
28
can be a by-product of frac sand operations.
29
“The breathing part of itisn’t good. You can just feel it in your throat, feel it in yournose,” said one resident who lives across the street from asand-washing plant.
30
Inhaling crystalline silica is dangerous,
31
and both themining and processing of frac sand generate particulatematter, which can exacerbate or cause respiratory andcardiovascular problems.
32
When crystalline silica is in-haled, it can cause cancer and a potentially fatal lung dis-ease, silicosis.
33
Studies indicate that workers exposed tocrystalline silica dust have increased lung cancer rates.
34
 According to a government report, 75 Wisconsin work-ers, largely in the manufacturing, mining and constructionindustries, died from silicosis between 1996 and 2005.
35
 

silica.
36
Limitations of Existing Regulations
In an August 2011 article on frac sands for the
WisconsinState Journal 
, a reporter with the Wisconsin Center forInvestigative Journalism stated that, “Some communitieslack local land-use controls such as zoning to manage theland rush.”
37
 The state of Wisconsin requires nonmetallic mining com-panies to create a reclamation plan before receiving a per-mit for mining sites larger than one acre.
38
However, thesenonmetallic mining standards were created several yearsbefore the onset of the fracking boom, with only traditionalsand and gravel pits in mind.
39
 In Wisconsin, counties and local governments are respon-sible for regulating nonmetallic mining within their juris-dictions.
40
Counties and municipalities that have zoningordinances in place are better able to control the actionsof mining businesses,
41
since zoning systemically regu-lates the way land is used by specifying what can be donewhere and to what extent.
42
However, in many places, it ispossible that zoning ordinances, land use regulations andlicensing procedures were written prior to the onset of thefracking boom.Counties and localities without zoning bodies are farmore limited, and some lack the negotiating power andresources necessary to properly regulate mining.
43
TwoWisconsin towns without zoning ordinances, Cooks Valleyand Howard, passed local ordinances in an attempt toregulate nonmetallic mine operations, but both towns werelater sued — Cooks Valley by landowners who wanted todevelop land for frac sand mines,
44
and Howard by a sandmining company.
45
The pro-mining plaintiffs claimed thatthe towns unlawfully created the ordinances;
46
however,Cooks Valley argued that it was simply trying to protectitself by enacting a licensing ordinance.
47
Cooks Valleyappealed a circuit court decision that invalidated its ordi-nance, but the appellate court has suggested that the casego to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to differentiate zoningordinances from licensing ordinances.
48

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