The Cost of Fracking and Frac Sand Mining

Media Releases

Speakers at today’s press conference call for moratorium on new frac sand operations

Environment Minnesota

Winona, MN — Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center fired a new salvo in the growing debate over frac sand mining, an industry poised for rapid expansion in Minnesota thanks to demand for silica sand used in the gas drilling practice known as fracking. The group today released a report documenting a wide range of dollars and cents costs imposed by the fracking industry.  As documented in The Cost of Fracking, fracking creates millions of dollars of health costs related to everything from air pollution to ruined roads to contaminated property. Demand for silica sand, or “frac sand,” which is used in the hydraulic fracturing process, has gone through the roof. Samantha Chadwick, Preservation Advocate with Environment Minnesota says the result is that “large-scale frac sand mining operations have descended on central and southern Minnesota—putting waterways, landscapes and public health at risk.”

“We know the environmental damage from the fracking industry across the country is serious, but it turns out that this dirty energy industry imposes heavy dollar and cents costs as well,” said Chadwick. The report covers the fracking industry as a whole, but speakers today linked the industry to risks from the frac sand mining industry here in Minnesota. “This is the kind of information we need on the frac sand industry, way before it explodes here in Minnesota.  We need to know all the costs of this industry, what it’s going to mean for our environment, health and quality of life. We need to make sure Minnesota is protected from the dangers of frac sand mining.”

Bryan Van Gorp from Houston County said he got active against frac sand mining even before he found out that a new sand mine was proposed adjacent to his own property. Now he’s worried the project will damage the streams on his land and hurt property value. “Fracking is not sustainable and not part of a long term energy solution” he said. “We should begin each decision by asking is this compatible with the kind of environment and society we want to leave for the next generation?”

Craig Brooks lives in Buffalo County in Wisconsin, and has seen the devastation caused by rapid expansion of industrial frac sand mining in Wisconsin, which has proceeded much more rapidly than in Minnesota. He sees this as a new threat to the way of life in the region he calls home. “It’scome in fast and furiously and taken our rural, small, local township and county governments by surprise.”

Craig says the rules governing these new operations in Wisconsin have been sorely inadequate. He’s seen new large-scale, industrial projects handled the same way as small gravel pits, with the same kind of permitting as putting in a small home business. Only close neighbors are notified, when in the case of industrial frac sand mining, those affected are in a much wider area — not only people living near by but those along haul routes, water routes and the wider area where people could be affected by health impacts of air and water pollution. “Citizen need a voice, and right now communities are not equipped to deal with this. If we don’t take time to study the possible affects on our health, welfare, economy, safety and infrastructure, we and generations to come will pay the price.”

Jim Gurley, a resident of rural Winona County, called for state action. “Minnesota needs a 3-year moratorium (time-out) on any new or expanded frac sand mining, processing, and transport. We also need a state-wide environmental review (known as a GEIS), but such a study would take at least a few years before it was completed. With no moratorium in place, the industry meanwhile will have fully moved into our counties and townships.”

“So a 3-year moratorium (state-wide) is extremely important for citizens to demand, and several groups are petitioning Governor Dayton to order one.”

Environment Minnesota has recently collected more than 400 names on a petition calling for more information on the risks of frac sand mining, and a moratorium. The petition lists major concerns including

  • Wastewater from mining operations can and has leaked out of holding ponds and into nearby wetlands and waterways. Frac sand mining threatens major waterways in our state including the Mississippi, St. Croix, and Minnesota River basins.
  • Frac sand mining involves the extraction of millions of gallons of water from underground wells, which can lead to the depletion of precious groundwater resources.
  • Frac sand mining requires the transportation of industrial machinery, equipment and millions of tons of sand, imposing a heavy cost on our environment, local communities and public health in the form of new roads and increased air pollution.
  • Mining endangers Minnesota’s wildlife habitats, agricultural land, and scenic areas where the landscape will be severely altered by mining operations. This can harm local business and impact existing agricultural, tourism, and recreational economies or local communities.Frac sand mines can turn hundreds of acres of rural land into industrial zones.
  • Exposure to silica sand dust from frac sand mining can cause silicosis, a respiratory disease.

The Cost of Fracking report documents a wide range of costs imposed by the fracking industry in communities across the country. For example:

  • Fracking operations contaminate drinking water sources in many ways – from spills to leaking waste pits to methane from drilling itself.  In Dimock, Pennsylvania, fracking operations contaminated the drinking water wells of several households for roughly three years, perhaps more.  Just providing 14 of those families with temporary water cost more than $100,000.   Providing a permanent new source of clean drinking water would have cost an estimated $11.8 million.
  • In Arkansas’ Fayetteville Shale region, air pollution from fracking operations impose health costs estimated at $9.8 million in one year.  In Texas’ Barnett Shale region, those costs reach $270,000 per day during the summer smog season.
  • With fracking operations requiring thousands of trips by trucks and heavy machinery, a Texas task force approved $40 million in funding for road repairs in the Barnett Shale region.
  • Moreover, as with previous extractive booms, fracking will impose long-term costs as well.  As noted in the report, the coal boom in Appalachia left Pennsylvania with an estimated $5 billion cost for cleaning up acid mine drainage.

The Costs of Fracking report comes as Minnesota leaders are considering ways to protect the state from the rapidly growing frac sand mining industry. Speakers at today’s press conference called for a 3-year state-wide moratorium on any new or expanded frac sand operations in Minnesota. Click here to read the report.


Environment Minnesota is a state-based, citizen-supported, environmental advocacy organization – we investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For full report and more information,

Information from the Houston County Protectors can be found at