- Nonmetallic mining
- Contact information
- For information on silica sand mining, contact:
- Deb Dix
Silica (frac) sand mining
Sand mining has occurred in Wisconsin for more than 100 years. Recent growth in the petroleum industry has created a high demand for sand that can be used for hydrofracking, a technique used to extract natural gas and crude oil from rock formations in other states. Wisconsin has high-quality sand resources and, as a result, the DNR has seen a substantial rise in permit requests to the department to mine for silica or "frac" sand.
The extracted sand is often processed locally. Processing of the sand typically involves washing and separating the sand into grain sizes suitable for hydrofracking. The sand is then shipped out of state for use at gas and oil fields for hydrofracking. The material removed during processing may be sold as a byproduct or is returned to the mine site as part of the reclamation process.
Given the interest in hydrofracking and Wisconsin's abundant supply of raw materials, the topic of sand mining in Wisconsin has generated interest from regulators, legislators, local governments and the general public.
- Silica sand mines must follow the same requirements as other nonmetallic mining operations in Wisconsin, including getting necessary air and water permits and following state reclamation laws.
- Mining and processing operations may have onsite repair and maintenance facilities which generate small amounts of hazardous waste (hydraulic oil, waste oil, cleaning solvents and anti freeze) and may be subject to the hazardous waste regulations. Read Hazardous Waste: Your Business Responsibilities (WA-295) for additional information.
- Sand mining facilities may fall under the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. Read An Operator's Handbook for Safe Drinking Water (DG-056) for additional information.
Department silica sand mining report
The rapid expansion of sand mining in Wisconsin has created a high level of interest about this activity from members of the public, reporters, local government officials, state legislators and others. In response, DNR released the following report in January 2012 that summarizes the best current information on silica sand mining, its possible environmental impacts and local, state and federal regulations that address sand mining and processing. The report will be updated periodically as any significant new information becomes available.
Air quality monitoring
Industrial sand operations that have a requirement in their permit to monitor for particulate matter are required to provide ambient monitoring data to the DNR. The DNR Air Management Program works with industrial sand facilities to provide technical assistance and review of monitor sites near the facilities, as required by their permits.
Monitor data from industrial sand mines is submitted to the DNR on a monthly basis and is quality assured by air monitoring staff. Quality assured data is compiled into plots and the updated information is posted to the interactive map and included in the following Excel spreadsheet approximately 60-90 days after the end of each calendar quarter.
Abandonment of boreholes/drillholes
State law requires the proper abandonment of all boreholes or drillholes exceeding 10 feet in depth or which intersect groundwater.
State law defines a drillhole as "an excavation, opening or driven point well deeper than it is wide that extends more than 10 feet below the ground surface."
Drillholes are also referred to as "boreholes" which are defined in s. NR 141.05(9) as a "circular hole deeper than it is wide, constructed in earth material for the purpose of either installing a well or obtaining geologic or groundwater related data."
With the rapid expansion of frac-sand mining operations in the state, there is an increased amount of soil-exploration drilling as landowners and others seek to identify large sand deposits. The resulting boreholes, unless properly sealed, present a risk to groundwater resources because they can create a pathway for surface runoff to contaminate underground aquifers.
NR 812 requirements
Chapter NR 812, Wis. Adm. Code, addresses sealing requirements for well and drillhole abandonment. It states, among other requirements, that "Once obstructions have been removed from a well or a drillhole, it shall be permanently abandoned by filling, from the bottom up, with the materials specified..." Failure to properly abandon a drillhole can result in liability for water contamination. The DNR encourages drillers to close drillholes for the purpose of soils exploration immediately as the hole is completed in order to avoid the potential for soils collapse and bridging to occur in the hole.
Fill out the Well/Drillhole/Borehole Filling & Sealing (Form 3300-005) after borehole abandonment. Upon completion, Form 3300-005 must be submitted to the department. Please mail forms to DNR, Bureau of Drinking Water and Groundwater, PO Box 7921, Madison WI 53707-7921.
For further information about proper abandonment of boreholes and drillholes, contact:
Drinking Water & Groundwater Program
Air monitoring data
View the interactive map and PDFs of particulate (PM10) monitoring data. Go to the "Air quality monitoring" tab for more information.
Location of mines and processing plants in Wisconsin
Silica sand mining studies and resources
- Air Pollution Control Requirements for Industrial Sand Mines (AM-491)
- August 2011 DNR Report to the Natural Resources Board: Silica Study (AM-407)
- EPA Natural Gas Extraction - Hydraulic Fracturing web page
- EPA's Study of Hydraulic Fracturing and its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources