Domestic production of industrial sand increased more than 36 percent in 2017 as Wisconsin again led the nation, according to new numbers from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Total U.S. production was about 105 million metric tons, worth an estimated $3.5 billion, according to the agency’s 2017 Mineral Commodity report. That’s up from about 77 million tons the previous year but still below the peak in 2014.
The average price of sand in 2017 was about $33 per ton, down slightly from the previous year. That figure represents the value of sand at the mine and doesn’t include shipping costs.
Altogether Wisconsin produced about $1.5 billion worth of minerals, principally industrial sand. Only 14 states produced minerals worth more.
The report does not include state-level numbers, but between 2013 and 2015 Wisconsin produced about a third of the nation’s industrial sand, according to USGS data. There are currently 92 active sand mines in the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The report indicates the industry enjoyed a rebound from 2016, when Wisconsin sand producers were idling mines and laying off dozens of workers.
“Generally 2016 was a pretty low year,” said Thomas Dolley, a mineral commodity specialist.
The increase was primarily driven by activity in the oil and gas industries, which use about 63 percent of total domestic consumption, according to the agency’s 2017 Mineral Commodity report.
Silica sand, which is abundant in western Wisconsin, is mixed with a cocktail of water and chemicals and injected into the earth where the grains prop open cracks in rocks to release gas and oil in a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Industrial sand is also used in foundries and for glass, abrasives and filters.
Increased oil and gas drilling was a major factor in the increase, while more efficient fracking techniques, which require more sand per well, also boosted demand.
“In any given year it’s always with the activity in the oil patch,” Dolley said. “If that’s up sand production will be up.”