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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Environment - "In Fracking, Sand Is the New Gold: Energy Boom Fuels Demand for Key Ingredient Used in Drilling Wells; 100 Sand Mines in Wisconsin "

That is the headline to this long interesting article today in the $$ Wall Street Journal, reported by Alison Sider and Kristin Jones. A few quotes:

Energy companies are expected to use 56.3 billion pounds of sand this year, blasting it down oil and natural gas wells to help crack rocks and allow fuel to flow out. Sand use has increased 25% since 2011, according to the consulting firm PacWest, which expects a further 20% rise over the next two years.

In Wisconsin, the source of white sand perfectly suited for hydraulic fracturing, state officials now estimate more than 100 sand mines, loading, and processing facilities have received permits, up from just five sand mines and five processing plants operating in 2010. * * *

Railroad operators are carrying boxcars filled with sand to shale fields including the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico, the Bakken formation of North Dakota and the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania.

While some of these places might seem to have plenty of sand of their own available, many fracking outfits prefer Wisconsin white sand, which is bigger and has rounder grains better suited for holding open larger pathways. * * *

Prepping sand to be used in fracking involves sifting it for the right-sized crystals, separating out contaminates, washing it and drying it.

But the sand boom is creating worries about worker safety as well as local opposition over the clouds of airborne dust from heavy-duty trucks hauling the sand from mines to processing plants and rail depots. Pattison Sand Co. in Clayton, Iowa, has faced particular scrutiny.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the fine granules unleashed from sand mining respirable crystalline silica—or silica dust—and says it is linked to silicosis and lung cancer.

"There's a tendency to say it's just dust and people have always been exposed to dust," said David Kriebel, an epidemiologist at the University of Massachusetts. "Crystalline silica is an extremely hazardous substance. Every little piece of crystalline silica that reaches the lungs causes scarring."

The story includes a fascinating slideshow of an underground sand mine.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 3, 2013 09:55 AM
Posted to Environment