Frac for Good

As the concept and processes behind hydraulic fracturing become more mainstream, federal, state and municipal lawmakers are adjusting their demands for environmental regulation accordingly. Now that the oil and gas operators have shown they want to be compliant without making the proprietary information behind their fracking solutions public knowledge, common-sense regulations are coming to fruition throughout the United States.

For instance, in May 2013, the state of Minnesota passed a requirement as part of its environment budget bill that says companies wanting to mine frac sand in the state would need approval from the Department of Natural Resources before proceeding, as reported by Minnesota Public Radio.

In an article published May 19, Tom Scheck reported that some opponents of silica sand mining had hoped the state legislature would ban it or forbid mining near trout streams. However, Rep. Jean Wagenius of Minneapolis explained that the permit process itself will ensure that the push to mine the sand does not harm the environment.

That opinion echoes the sentiment of Kyle Holmes, the president of Hanson Lake Sands Corp. of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In this issue of Energy & Mining International magazine, Holmes says the use of frac sand is becoming more prevalent as it is proven time and again to be safe for the environment. His company can’t keep up with demand for frac sand from the Hanson Lake area of Saskatchewan, and Holmes does not see an end to the boom times.

“The demand is here, and the demand is here to stay,” Holmes insists.

Not everyone is convinced that the frac sand business is here to stay, however. Also in May, Wisconsin Public Radio reported on a study that warned Wisconsin’s decision-makers about frac sand mining’s potential boom-and-bust cycle.

Dr. Tom Power, a consultant and economist with the University of Montana, says previous economic impact analyses on frac sand mining have only focused on benefits such as jobs and tax revenues. Power’s study points to former mining towns that have struggled with high unemployment and poverty after mine closures.

Unlike other commodities, however, frac sand isn’t in demand because of its own value. It provides a means to an end, with that end being oil and gas extrusion from geographic swaths that require the specific process that is hydraulic fracturing. The prices of gold, silver, copper and other commodities rise and fall on their own, but as long as frac sand is a vital resource for big oil and gas players, it will be in demand for years to come.

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