Frac sand mining booming in Wisconsin

July 23, 2012

The oil and gas boom coming from the production centers around the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations, and the Utica and Marcellus Shales formations has led to an increased demand for frac sand. In the past two years 20 frac sand mines have begun operations in the Wisconsin county of Trempealeau. The mines and processing plants produce strong, fine-grained sand in high demand for a type of oil and natural gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The number of Wisconsin frac sand mining operations has more than doubled in the past year, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found, and the state leads the nation in production.

“We have the best sand in the world,” said Tom Woletz, the frac sand specialist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “And we have a lot of sand.”

A year ago, the Center identified 41 facilities operating or proposed in the state. This summer 87 are operating or under construction, with another 20 facilities in the proposal stage.

The demand for sand has soared in tandem with the explosion in controversial hydraulic fracturing operations across the country. The sand is used to prop open fractures in the bedrock, allowing oil or natural gas to flow past.

Frac sand production has increased seven-fold in the past decade, according to the United States Geological Survey. Thomas Dolley, a mineral commodity specialist at the USGS, said he can’t divulge state-specific numbers, but he confirmed that Wisconsin is currently the largest producer of frac sand, the LaCrosse Tribune reported.

“It’s like a land rush for this material,” Dolley said. “I’ve been covering this commodity for 11 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.“
But Bruce Brown, senior geologist with the Wisconsin Geological Survey, agrees with other state officials that Wisconsin may be reaching the peak of the frac sand boom.

In other frac sand news, Smart Sand and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. announced a strategic long-term partnership under which the two companies will supply and ship premium, Northern White frac sand to the unconventional oil and gas industry in key North America producing regions (including the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations, and the Utica and Marcellus Shales). The two companies also announced the partnership’s first initiative: building a new frac sand transload facility, expected to be the region’s largest, in Makoti, North Dakota that will serve the Bakken formation in the Williston Basin beginning in early 2013.

Smart Sand’s primary facility, which opened in late June 2012 and is located on the CP rail line in Oakdale, WI, will supply premium Northern White frac sand in a broad range of mesh sizes to the new transload facility. Based on Smart Sand’s initial processing capacity of more than 907 kt/a (1 million stpy), plus the company’s extensive proven reserves, the facility will be able to quickly fulfill long- and short-term orders while providing direct rail access for unit trains.

Canadian Pacific is the only North American railroad to serve the Bakken Formation, the Alberta Industrial Heartland and the Marcellus Shale. In addition, CP is the only Class I railway to connect the energy hubs of the U.S. Midwest, Alberta and Saskatchewan to the Northeast U.S. Through its network to the Northeast U.S. and through the Kansas City gateway to the U.S. Gulf Coast, CP is able to partner with the energy industry to facilitate growth in moving oil and energy-related materials. Each year, CP moves hundreds of thousands of carloads of energy-related products, including crude oil, sulfur, fuels, diluents and materials key to the energy industry, such as pipe and frac sand.



Related article search: