It May Not Have Oil, but Here’s Why the Shale Boom is a Winner for Wisconsin

Jun 02, 2015 - 10:45am

Senior Editor, Digital Content


A footprint from a worker's boot is left at a sand mine in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin.
A footprint from a worker's boot is left at a sand mine in Maiden Rock, Wisconsin. Photo credit: Ariana Lindquist/Bloomberg.

The shale boom isn’t just about what’s happening in places like North Dakota, Texas, and Pennsylvania. The Midwest, especially Wisconsin, is seeing the benefits because it’s a great source of sand for hydraulic fracturing:

Wisconsin was the leading producer of frac sand in 2014, accounting for nearly half of the nation's production of the white sand coveted by the hydraulic fracturing industry, new statistics released this week show.

The United States Geological Survey's preliminary estimates for 2014 show Wisconsin's production at 24 million metric tons, compared with 8 million for Illinois, 8 million for Texas and 5 million for Minnesota.

Wisconsin, which has been dubbed the Saudi Arabia of sand, has seen a significant expansion of sand mines and sand processors in recent years as the oil and gas industry has expanded production of oil and gas through horizontal drilling techniques such as "fracking."

In a report, the USGS estimated that frac sand sales totaled 31 metric tons in 2012.

The sand is in high demand, because its grains are well able "to prop open underground shale formations fissured by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing," National Geographic reports.

Frac sand is being mined, loaded onto rail cars, and shipped to the Bakken, Eagle Ford, Marcellus, and other shale plays.

Nearly half (47%) of all frac sand mined went to the Eagle Ford and Permian Shales in Texas. The Marcellus and Utica shales in the Northeast received 22% of the sand.

The skyrocketing growth in frac sand mining mirrors the growth of oil and natural gas production from hydraulic fracturing.


Frac sand sales, and free on board (FOB) mine values. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.
Frac sand sales, and free on board (FOB) mine values. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

Jobs supported by the frac sand mining industry are just part of the 524,000 jobs supported by shale energy development.

In 2012, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis noted how sand mining has been a boon to rural areas in Wisconsin:

Unemployment in Barron County, Wis., topped 11 percent at one point during the recession. But since 2010, sand mining companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the predominantly rural county—making its economic development director bullish on the future.

“Frac sand is the biggest and best thing that’s happened in our lifetime in Barron County,” Bob Missling said. “I see frac sand becoming one of the county’s biggest sources of [business] revenue, moving forward.”

Even with softening oil prices over the last year, high demand for frac sand is expected to continue because more sand is being used for each well. “The USGS report says a typical fracking well used 900 tons of sand seven years ago but that had grown to 4,100 to 5,000 tons last year,” reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In addition, companies are considering refracturing existing wells to increase output.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.