Changes in Soil Quality, Land-Use/Land-Cover (LULC), and Ecosystem Services Associated with Frac Sand Mining in the Northern Mississippi Valley

Oral Presentation

Prepared by T. Auch1, C. Gallemore2
1 - The FracTracker Alliance, Cleveland State University, 2460 Fairmount Boulevard, Cleveland Heights, OH, 44118, United States
2 - Northeastern Illinois University, Department of Geography and Environmental Studies BBH 344C Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 North St. Louis Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60625, United States

Contact Information: [email protected]; 802-343-6771


It is true that hydraulic fracturing strictly speaking has not established a sizeable footprint within the Great Lakes. However, Wisconsin and Minnesota’s St. Peter sandstone – and to a lesser degree Michigan and Illinois – have become the primary source of frac sand or “proppant” for the shale gas industry.

The potential land-use and hydrological stock/flow ramifications of frac sand mining are nontrivial. In an effort to quantify total above and belowground carbon dynamics we conducted land cover analysis across Wisconsin’s sandstone polygons. Forest and cultivated lands constitute the largest fraction of Wisconsin’s sandstone geology with respective values of 21,542 and 28,349 km2. Forests generate 10.1-21.8 million tons of woody biomass per annum or 72.7-113.6 million m2 of basal area. According to our analysis these sandstone polygons generate 27.8 million tons of crop biomass per year worth an estimated $4.9 billion. Finally, we conducted similar analysis for Minnesota and found that the Minnesota sandstone polygons supporting forests generate 4.1-4.9 million tons of woody biomass and 11.3-17.0 million m2 worth of basal area. At the county level we determined that Trempealeau County, WI is 46% agriculture while the producing mines were nearly entirely forested prior to mining with only 1.8% in agriculture. On a more granular level we found that a 8.9 mi2 proposal by Chieftain Metals Corp in Barron County, Wisconsin would be developed on a parcel that currently generates $7.85-15.33 in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem services with mining resulting in a parcel that would be 40% less productive.

Given the high quality and predictability of the Great Lakes once glaciated geology the silica sand industry has abandoned its operations in Oklahoma and Texas. Thus mining and its resulting homogenized landscapes will become more and more common where once there were diverse “working landscapes” comprised of wildlife habitat, small and medium sized woodlots, and various agricultural parcels. This will require an understanding of how silica mining is effecting air and water quality, watershed resilience, and wildlife habitat.