BOSTON, MA.///September 25, 2014///Frac sand mining – the extraction of the fine-particle sand needed for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of wells — is expanding rapidly in the United States and poses a little-understood threat to human health, the environment, and local economies, according to a major report issued today by the Civil Society Institute’s Boston Action Research (BAR) and released in cooperation with Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA).
According to the new BAR report, “Communities At Risk: Frac Sand Mining in the Upper Midwest” available online at www.bit.ly/fracsandmining, a significant portion of frac sand mining in the U.S. is concentrated today in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which have a total of 164 active frac sand facilities, and another 20 that have been proposed. Wisconsin alone is on track to extract 50 million tons of frac sand a year – the equivalent of 9,000 semi-truck loads a day and enough to fill the nation’s second tallest building, the former Sear Towers in Chicago, 21 times a year.
Drilling companies are now finding that the use of more frac sand per well increases shale gas and oil yields. As a result, analysts estimate that fracking companies will require 95 billion pounds of frac sand this year, an increase of almost 30 percent from 2013 and 50 percent above initial forecasts. Given the explosive growth in fracking nationwide, extraction could spread to several other states with untapped or largely untapped frac sand deposits, including Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. (See the map here: www.bit.ly/fracsandmap. For a detailed map-based look at the impact of frac sand mining, see the new EWG report at http://www.ewg.org/research/danger-in-the-air.)
Report coauthor Grant Smith, senior energy policy advisor, Civil Society Institute, said: “The rapid expansion in the United States of oil and shale gas drilling, including hydraulic fracturing, has a hidden side filled with problems: the mining of the special sand that is essential to fracking a drilled well. As this report makes clear, it is essential that local and state governments assess and take action based on the impacts of the full cycle of shale oil and gas drilling, including frac sand mining. Health, water, and other economic concerns should be addressed comprehensively, rather than being ignored or dismissed. Protecting public health and safety is the first responsibility of government.”
EWG Executive Director Heather White said: “None of the states at the center of the current frac sand mining boom have adopted air quality standards for silica that will adequately protect the tens of thousands of people living or working near the scores of recently opened or proposed mining sites. EWG’s mapping research found frac sand sites in close proximity to schools, hospitals and clinics, where children and patients may be exposed to airborne silica. Chronic exposure can lead to emphysema and lung disease. We need strong state action to protect the public health from yet another troubling side effect of the unprecedented wave of shale gas development.”
MEA Executive Director Kimberlee Wright said: “Citizens living near frac sand mining in Wisconsin are witnessing a massive destruction of their rural landscape. Elected officials and our states’ natural resources protection agency have largely dismissed local citizens’ concerns about their health, the health of their environment and their quality of life. Without a clearer view of the big picture of frac sand mining’s impact, laws that protect our communities’ air and water aren’t being developed or enforced.”
Key concerns about frac sand mining outlined in the report include the following: