THE EFFECTS of the use of sand in fracking are ignored except for a mention of the use. The major source of the fine-grade crystalline silica sand used in the process is along the banks of the Mississippi in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin.
Even though sand has been mined in these states previously, the requests for sand have increased exponentially. We have seen some dubious practices of local government officials with likely conflicts of interest in granting permits either for the mining or for the transportation infrastructure (like rail side yards) necessary for the industry. In addition, the sand companies are hiring county engineers and regulators, leaving communities unprepared to deal with the issues.
Environmental issues to be considered include air pollution from fine silica particles, ground- and surface-water impacts, effects on wetlands and fisheries, and even removal of forest cover to accommodate mining. Impacts include dewatering and possible contamination of water supplies.
We must also remember that this is happening far from the environmental effects and the profitable venue of the gas mines themselves.
Originally published in Harvard Magazine.