Sip of Science: The Silica Sand Mining Boom in the Central Midcontinent: Why the Boom, Why Here, and Why the Controversy?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 - 5:30pm

The recent rapid expansion of silica sand mining in the central United States is driven by demand for proppant, a material used in hydrofracking to keep fractures open as oil and natural gas are extracted from the subsurface. Certain bedrock layers in the Midwest region, especially parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, are dominated by sand grains particularly well suited for use as a proppant. These layers are well known to both sedimentologists and industry as some of the most "mineralogically and texturally mature" sandstone on Earth. Tony Runkel from the Minnesota Geological Survey will provide an overview of the expansion of silica sand mining in this region, including geologic interpretations of why our "mature" sand is so special, and why the expansion has been controversial.