EAU CLAIRE, Wis. —
Wisconsin's frac sand industry is grappling with several idled mines
as the sector faces increased competition in Texas and Oklahoma.
Kent Syverson, a geology professor at the University of
Wisconsin-Eau Claire, believes the region's frac sand development
boom is over.
Areas of western and central Wisconsin saw heavy investment from
2011 to 2014, when sand mines, processing plants and rail loading
facilities were emerging throughout the area. Since then, Superior
Silica Sands has idled three sand mines in Wisconsin, while Hi-Crush
is halting production at its mine in Augusta.
Syverson told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that demand remains
strong, but energy companies have built mines closer to oilfields in
Texas and Oklahoma. The production expansion has lowered prices and
allowed oil drillers to purchase local sand for less than the cost
of shipping it from Wisconsin, he said.
"The capital has already been invested in Wisconsin, so the real
questions are how much of this sand will still be needed and how
many of these higher-cost operations that are taken off line will
never come back," he said.
Syverson also argued that companies in the Permian Basin in West
Texas and southeast New Mexico are moving toward finer grain sand.
It's lower quality but more plentiful than the northern white sand
that's produced in Wisconsin.
"Wisconsin sand is still the Cadillac of all sands, but these
companies in the Permian Basin are saying they can make more money
driving a Chevy than a Cadillac," Syverson said. "It's all a
In the Upper Midwest, mines with the annual capacity of 18 million
tons of frac sand have already been idled this year, said Ryan
Carbrey of Houston-based energy research firm Rystad Energy.
Carbrey expects the number to rise to 30 million tons by the end of
The changes in the Permian Basin are important because the area
accounts for half of the country's shale energy production, Carbrey
added. But he said major shale energy deposits in North Dakota and
Pennsylvania still rely on northern white sand.
"In those regions, there's not really much good local sand," he