Frac Sand Piles Grow As Companies Begin Stockpiling For Winter

Mines Are Washing As Much Sand As They Can Before Freeze Sets In

Frac sand piles in western Wisconsin. Photo: Carol Mitchell (CC-BY-NC-SA).

Residents may notice sand piles growing taller and wider as frac sand mines across Wisconsin begin stockpiling millions of tons of sand to prepare for the winter months.

Demand for Wisconsin’s frac sand doesn’t waver with the seasons. At oil wells across the U.S. and Canada, millions of tons are forced into the ground year round to crack rocks holding precious petroleum and methane gas. Keeping that sand flowing from Wisconsin, however, can be tricky when the average winter temperature is around 23 degrees.

Rich Budinger, president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association and a plant manager for mining company Fairmont Santrol, said that right now companies are ramping up the mining and washing of sand to stockpile product before the freeze sets in. Budinger said the larger sand mines and processing plants produce anywhere from 500,000 to 700,000 tons of finished sand per year. So, to keep things going through the winter they need piles that will feed drying plants for five to six months.

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“You need a 250,000 ton stockpile at the end of the season, which is typically mid-November, to be able to continue to feed well into April of the following year,” said Budinger.

Budinger said people may already notice piles of sand growing in recent weeks. Once temperatures drop, he said, they’ll shrink back down as companies dry it and send it out of state by rail. Around April, when temperatures creep back up, Budinger said the cycle starts all over again.