Aerial photos show scale of frac sand mines

As you’re probably aware by now, Minnesota and Wisconsin are the source of much of the silica sand used in fracking operations throughout the U.S. The expansion of sand-mining operations has understandably let to considerable public debate, as well as moratoriums on mining operations in some communities.

Jim Tittle, a St. Paul filmmaker, is working on a documentary, “The Price of Sand,” which explores the impact of these mining operations on the residents who live near them. Recently, Tittle shared some aerial photos of sand mines in Wisconsin (posted here with his permission) that he shot as part of the project.

Below, the Chippewa Sands mine in Chippewa County, which was the subject of this report from American Public Media’s Marketplace program:

A processing plant near Chippewa Falls owned by EOG (formerly Enron), documented in this USA Today article:

The Fairmount mine near Maiden Rock, which is currently seeking a permit to expand from 789 to nearly 1,700 acres:

The Preferred Sands mine in Chippewa County:

And the Superior Silica Sands mine, also in Chippewa County:

Opponents say the expanded mining operations contribute to increased noise and road damage from increased truck traffic, and have raised health concerns about dust blowing from open-air sand piles.

Tittle said his interest in sand mining was sparked when an oil company bought land near his mother’s house outside Red Wing, Minnesota.

“I grew up playing on those bluffs,” he said.

Tittle’s film is scheduled to be completed this summer. He has interview clips and other footage posted on his YouTube page.

UPDATE: On our Facebook page, John Wawrzyniak comments: “You have sand and gravel pits all over the country. What’s the issue? They make awesome shooting ranges and trails for motor cross.”

That’s a fair point, and in these communities, sand and gravel pits have long operated without much controversy. What’s changed is the vastly increased scale and intensity of the operations – that’s what is stymieing local officials and stirring up opposition from neighbors. This video goes into more detail on this point:

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