NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Group Issues Misleading Frac Sand Study

November 5, 2014

Last month, a group published a report on the dangers of "frac sand" mining -- a report which Heartland Institute Research Fellow Isaac Orr says is misleading.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, uses a mixture of sand, water and chemicals to create fissures in rock, which then releases oil that would be otherwise unreachable. The particular type of sand -- "frac sand" -- used in the fracking process must be mined, and it is often mined in the Upper Midwest.

But according to Orr, the frac sand report contains a number of inaccurate statements. He offers some examples:

  • The study suggests frac sand mining operates with little oversight, despite the fact that mining for the sand requires a number of permits. Orr describes the state of Wisconsin's mining requirements, which requires water permits, permits for water withdrawal, permits for wetland modification, permits for storm water discharge, permits for air pollution, permits for mine safety and more. The state also requires miners to restore the land after mining is completed.
  • The study suggests that frac sand mining could deplete the water supply because it requires a significant amount of water to process and wash the sand. But according to Orr, of the 10 counties with frac sand watering operations, frac sand washing and processing was only the sixth highest water use in the county. Moreover, most facilities use processes that allow 90 percent of the water used to be recycled and used again.
  • When recycling water for frac sand processing, facilities must remove clay particles from the water. To do so, they use a chemical known as polyacrylamide, as do most wastewater treatment facilities. While the study suggests polyacrylamide can sometimes contain the neurotoxin acrylamide, Orr says acrylamide can only ever be found in trace amounts in polyacrylamide. Moreover, it breaks down incredibly quickly; in oxygen-rich soils, 74 to 94 percent of the chemical breaks down within two weeks.
  • The study suggests there is acid mine drainage as a result of frac sand mining, but provides no evidence. Orr says frac sand mining does not lead to acid mine drainage.

Orr writes that frac sand mining has created thousands of high-paying jobs, and it is entirely possible to mine for the sand without hurting the environment.

Source: Isaac Orr, "Frac Sand Study: Lots of Scare, Little Science," Heartland Institute, November 3, 2014. 


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