Understand the frac sand mining process

The La Crosse Center is playing host to the Frac Sand Insider conference which began Tuesday.

Frac sand mining is the mining of sand that is used in the fracking process to get oil and natural gas out of the ground.

This is the third year of the conference, but the first time it is being held here in La Crosse. An organizer said it was moved to La Crosse because Wisconsin and Minnesota are literally the core of the frac sand mining industry.

The industry isn’t necessarily a big one in the large scheme of things, but Minnesota and Wisconsin have some of the best areas for frac sand mining in the country. That’s why it only makes sense to host the conference in La Crosse, which is near the the border of both states.

“It’s a chance for people to come together, No. 1, to get educational sessions where they can learn specific things about the industry, where they can learn specific things about the market, the geology, production techniques,”  Mark Kuhur, editor of Rock Products, said.

We talk a lot about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and frac sand mining, but how much do we actually know about the process? Geologist Jay Zambito of the Wisconsin Geological Survey took News 8 to the southside of La Crosse where Highways 14 and 35 meet for a little show and tell.

“Sand in Wisconsin is mined, sent to places like North Dakota, sent to places like the Appalachian Basin or Texas, and there, when it’s injected into the ground during the hydraulic fracturing process, the sand gets into those fractures and when the pressure is released the sand props open those fractures and allows that conduit for oil and gas to migrate back to the surface for extraction,” Zambito said.

Zambito said frac sand needs to be round and very strong in order to withstand the pressure of the fracking process, and that type of sand is very common in western Wisconsin.

“You can just break the sand apart. Each one of these individual grains can be easily separated and that’s why it’s, that’s why the mining boom has been occurring in Wisconsin, because the sand can be extracted and processed so easily,” Zambito said.

Fracking is not a new process. It has been used in the U.S. for about 75 years.

For more information, visit the Wisconsin Geological Survey