Much of the controversy around gas fracking operations have focused on the chemicals used in the process – but the enormous quantities of frac sand needed also pose an environmental threat.
Fracking involves the use of sand and fluids injected deep underground to fracture rock and coal seams to allow gas to be harvested. There’s been all sorts of concerns about the practice, from land appropriation to water contamination issues; even earthquakes.
It turns out you can’t just use any old sand for fracking either. It must be special “frac sand”; which has quartz grains of a particular size, shape and purity.
It’s estimated that in 2011, the amount of frac sand produced in the USA reached 21.7 million tonnes. It’s the shortage of this sand that is holding back fracking activities – which is probably a good thing; but of course there is a huge push for increasing supply.
A good chunk of the USA’s frac sand supply comes from western and central Wisconsin. According to Pilar Gerasimo of Save Our Knapp Hills Alliance, a group concerned with the recent surge in silica-sand mining and processing in their area, some of this sand lies beneath prime agricultural areas. Sand mining activities will also see some hills in their region being leveled.
Add to the destruction of landscapes the infrastructure and energy required to process the sand and transport it; along with the threat of silica-sand dust causing health problems such as silicosis and it doesn’t appear to be a very environmentally or people friendly gig.
The Knapp Hill concerns aren’t isolated – other communities are about to or have already suffered as companies pillage them for frac sand.
The sand issue is yet another strike against fracking and a fossil fuel soaked future generally.
The frightening reality is the love affair with natural and coal seam gas is really only just beginning as the world turns away from coal and peak oil becomes an even more pressing issue. While gas certainly has its benefits and will need to be part of the energy mix for a long time to come, gas isn’t as green as we’ve been led to believe. It is not a panacea for our energy or emissions woes.
I fear all we’ll see from the new darling of the fossil fuel industry is oil and coal all over again, further burdening a planet already bursting at the seams with pollution and pushing us beyond the point of no return in terms of climate change; if that point hasn’t been reached already.
The real answers, my friends, are blowing in the wind (apologies to Bob Dylan) – and shining down upon us. Don’t let solar power myths or misinformation about wind energy fool you. Along with us all playing a role in terms of energy efficiency, wind and solar are real and sustainable solutions.
By the way, it hasn’t been lost upon me that silicon solar cells are made from sand as well. However, a wider range of silica sand types can be used and silica sand is very common.
I haven’t found the original source of this following bit of trivia, but it seems just one ton of silica sand, when used to make solar cells, can produce as much electricity as burning 500,000 tons of coal – and then those cells can be recycled over and over.
This post was tapped out using 100% solar power (and on a cloudy day too).
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