Northwestern Wisconsin is experiencing a large expansion of frac sand mining and processing operations. Frac Sand is used to help extract oil and gas from previously hard to reach shale deposits. It is exported from Wisconsin to places with gas and oil bearing shale where it is used in a combined process called hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Frac sand is mixed with high volumes of water and toxic chemicals and forced into the shale, where it holds open fissures allowing the oil or gas to be extracted.
Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are causing well publicized concerns for public health wherever it is done. Wisconsin communities have similar concerns: destruction of productive agricultural land, risks of water contamination and depletion, degraded property values, loss of traditional rural communities, noise and traffic increases, and threats to health and safety.
Each of the thousands of oil and gas wells can use as much as 3 million pounds of sand for completion.(See, http://www.marcellus-shale.us/Canadian-SandProppant.htm ) Demand for frac sand will be as limitless as demand for oil and gas. It is expected that many thousands of acres of Wisconsin hills, farmland and woods will be converted to open pit mines, with the transport and processing of sand occurring across the region. Therefore, the public health risks of frac sand mining must be more fully understood.
Large scale mining operations will increase the amounts of both Particulate Matter (PM) and Respirable Crystalline Silica in the air. These pollutants at certain levels can cause respiratory illnesses, including silicosis, and do pose a public health threat.