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.