Pounds of pressure into the natural gas

The fine grained sand, after processing in the Midwest, is shipped via rail to the petroleum fields (mainly owned by a handful of transnational energy conglomerates) around the United States, where it is mixed with billions of gallons of water and an extremely toxic cocktail of known carcinogenic chemical compounds. The resulting slurry, called “slickwater,” is pumped underground as deep as four miles, under many thousands of pounds of pressure into the natural gas and crude oil containing rock to break open the ancient slate seams in long horizontal planes.

The trainloads of sand departing Wisconsin day and night, known in the industry as “proppants,” are used to “prop” and hold open the countless webs of slate rock fractures in order for the gas and oil to be pumped to the surface. Last year, as many as 9,000 truckloads of silica sand are estimated to have departed Wisconsin in a single day from the dozens of existing mining and processing facilities. According to the Wisconsin Center of Investigative Journalism, the state is on track to export some 50 million tons of frac sand annually. A single fracturing of a petroleum well will consume as much as 10,000 tons of silica material.

As geologic history and fate would have it, about 500 million years ago, during the Cambrian and Ordovician periods, much of North America and Wisconsin sat in the tropics, tilted astride its tectonic plate, 10 degrees south of the equator. For about 100 million years, the earth’s seas rose and receded in three periods, depositing in succession the Jordan, Wonewoc, and St. Peter’s layers of today’s central and northwestern Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota’s swath of pre-historic silica sand.

In a National Geographic online article published July 2013, author Sally Younger notes that a United States Treasury Department mineral agent named David Owen and about 100 assistants were dispatched to the Midwest in 1847, one year before Wisconsin was admitted as a state. They reported their findings regarding generous deposits of copper, zinc, lead and “amphitheatres of sand,” the formations of which “are like almost nowhere else on earth.”

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