Frac sand demand cools in SE Minnesota, western Wisconsin


After seeing a huge rush over the last couple of years, demand for frac sand is - at least temporarily - on the wane in western Wisconsin and the adjoining southeast Minnesota area.

That's the conclusion reached by the Winona Daily News, which notes that "a dash to open mines and processing facilities and ship the valuable sand across the country for fracking operations" may have slowed.

In a comprehensive investigation of the geology, infrastructure and technology of fracking in the region, the paper reports that there's more sand than the energy industry needs.

Sand is mined and used in fracking, a technique used to extract oil and gas from rock. Fracking uses high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals.

The paper reports that some of the mines and loading and hauling facilities in the area are unused.

There are a number of industry experts who seem to think the fall in demand is temporary, the Associated Press reports. The Freedonia Group, a market research organization, estimates that the annual demand for silica sand will increase by at least 4.8 percent every year at least until 2016.

Minnesota cities and counties have made significant efforts to stop or regulate operations, with several counties approving year-long moratoriums or limiting the number of active mines, and the debate reached the state Capitol this spring, where lawmakers considered a statewide moratorium.

There is loyal opposition among constituents as well. A protest at a Winona frac sand mine in April led to 35 arrests.

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Protesters block frac sand trucks in Winona

About 30 people blocked the entrance to a loading terminal where semitrucks deliver frac sand to rail cars. The disruption comes on the heels of a similar protest last Thursday, the Winona Daily News reports.

Mount Frac: a 40,000-ton symbol of Winona's sand debate

Winona now has six businesses that mine, process, or transport frac sand. Backers of the industry say the economic benefits are far-reaching. Detractors have trouble seeing those benefits through the dust, truck traffic, and noise they say are hurting the city's quality of life.