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Environmental Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining

May 11, 2015

The rate of silica sand mining in the United States has increased in recent years, due in large part to the tremendous growth in hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas using horizontal drilling techniques.

Policy-Study

The rate of silica sand mining in the United States has increased in recent years, due in large part to the tremendous growth in hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas using horizontal drilling techniques. Some environmental activist groups and community organizers contend silica sand mining presents significant threats to human health and the environment. Scientific evidence strongly refutes such claims.

Silica sand mining has minimal environmental impact, involves virtually no public health risk, and is an important part of domestic energy production that has substantial economic benefits. Heartland Policy Study No. 137, “Environmental Impacts of Industrial Silica Sand (Frac Sand) Mining,” documents the following facts:

  • Studies conducted by regulatory bodies and research groups have conclusively shown silica sand mining operations do not increase the concentrations of silica sand particles in the ambient air downwind of such operations.
  • Water use data show silica sand mining operations consume a small fraction of state-wide water resources.
  • The existing local, state, and federal regulatory structure is designed to ensure silica sand mining – and myriad other industrial operations – is conducted in a manner that ensures compliance with air and water quality standards, and thus protects human health and the environment.
  • The increase in silica sand mining has had substantial economic and employment benefits in the states that have benefitted from the silica sand mining boom.
  • Silica sand mining is an important part of the larger, recent revolution in domestic energy production, by which the United States is producing ever-increasing amounts of affordable clean energy by tapping into a huge supply of heretofore untouched resources.


Authors Isaac Orr, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, and Mark Krumenacher, is a principal and senior vice president of GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc., write,

For an informed discussion to take place, the public must have access to the best available information. Unfortunately, those raising fears of the effects of frac sand mining have taken advantage of the public’s limited understanding of the industrial sand mining process, limited recognition of the precautions taken to minimize potential environmental impacts, limited knowledge of geology, and lack of awareness of state and local regulations on silica sand production.


Orr and Krumenacher conclude silica sand mining can be done in a safe and environmentally responsible manner with the proper oversight and environmental protections. State and local governments have done a commendable job working with environmental and industry leaders to craft legislation that protects the environment while permitting industrial sand production to move forward. Regulations crafted to specifically regulate industrial sand mining would be duplicative, resulting in higher costs without tangibly increasing environmental protections.

Author
Isaac Orr is a research fellow for energy and environment policy at The Heartland Institute. Orr is a speaker, researcher, and writer specializing in hydraulic fracturing, frac sand mining, agricultural, and environmental policy issues.
iorr@heartland.org
Author
Mark Krumenacher is a principal and senior vice president of GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. and works in its Waukesha, Wisconsin office. He is a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
mark.krumenacher@gza.com