Wisconsin isn’t the first state to come to mind when one mentions fracking – “hydraulic fracturing”, that is. In actual fact, however, America’s Dairyland has assumed great importance to the fracking industry by virtue of an essential resource: so-called “frac sand”, a specific type of sand whose characteristics make it ideal for propping; keeping induced subterranean rock fractures from closing after they’ve been opened by injected fluids.
Wisconsin has been blessed with an abundance of frac sand. The material was created during the Ice Ages when the glaciers ground the region’s abundant sandstone into vast layers of uniformly-sized, gently rounded grains of hard silica sand. Typical beach sand is unsuitable for propping due to its varied composition and sharp-edged grains. When beds of natural frac sand aren’t available, sand miners use explosives to shatter the sandstone and then grind the material into sand.
Wisconsin’s frac sand can be found beneath the state’s fertile farm soil, which must be removed along with any overlying vegetation in order to extract and refine the sand. If frac sand mining and farming sound incompatible, you’re right, and land-owners will pursue whichever activity provides the greatest economic reward. Right now, mining has the upper hand but the long-term costs of frac sand mining may end up far greater than the short-term payoff.