The US frac sand industry dominated
the headlines in 2012 as mining activity boomed almost as fast
as fracking opposition mounted.
More than 40% of the USs frac
sand tonnage was used as hydraulic fracturing sand and
well-packing and cementing sand, while 26% was used as
glassmaking sand, 11% as foundry sand, 6% as other whole-grain
silica, 6% as whole-grain fillers and building products and 10%
for other uses according to the US Geological Survey
While the US maintained its
position as the worlds largest silica sand producer this
year, other countries also progressed with major announcements
coming out of Europe, China and South East Asia.
US frac sand
US shale gas boomed during 2012 due
to the countrys drive for new, alternative energy
sources, but this was also met with increasing controversy
concerning frac sand mining and fracking.
The city of Winona, Minnesota
introduced a one-year moratorium on frac sand operations at the
end of October after concerns over the areas air quality
Tiller Corp. also faced frac sand
difficulties in 2012 as its Minnesota-based processing plant
was investigated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
(MPCA) after claims that it did not have the necessary permits
when construction began.
Tiller stopped construction in May
after discovering it did not apply for the correct
environmental permit back in February. However, Mike Caron,
director for land use affairs, remained confident that the
plant will open early next year.
Elsewhere in the state, six silica
sand mines are up-and-running, and moratoria have so far been
enacted by five counties and five cities.
Opposition increased rapidly in
response to a proposal from Minnesota Sands for a frac sand
mine in Allamakee County, Iowa, in October.
Local opponents registered concern
about the removal or defacement of scenic hills and the
potential noise, silica dust and heavy traffic associated with
silica sand mining.
Along with other moratoria,
Colorado city residents also won a vote to ban fracking in
Frac sand activity boomed in
Wisconsin, however, with a 100%-increase in facilities to more
than 100 frac sand sites in 2012 from just a handful in
These sites include mines,
processing plants, and trans-loading stations concentrated in
the Maiden rock area, near Chippewa Falls, and in Trempealeau
and Monroe counties.
Elsewhere in Wisconsin, more than
80 mines and processing facilities are either operating or
under construction, with an additional 20 in the proposal
The New York department of
environmental conservation (DEC) announced its intention to
file a 90-day extension to the deadline for its hydraulic
fracturing (fracking) blueprint in November.
The extension was required after a
review of the potential hazards associated with the process
failed to reach completion before the 29 November cut-off
While there is certainly opposition
to frac sand-related activities, many advancements have still
US Silica Holdings Inc. is
considering buying additional US mines following increased
demand for silica sand from energy producers,
IM reported in September.
The Maryland-based company, which
is the second-largest US producer of silica sand, produced
1.78m tonnes in Q2 2012, of which 685,000 tonnes went to oil
and gas markets, while 1.098m went to traditional silica sand
users, such as glass makers.
Due to the increased demand caused
by the shale gas boom, US Silica sold out of frac sand for the
rest of 2012 and said it expects demand to increase by up to
20% per year.
As well as causing environmental
concern, the US frac sand boom also presented a logistics
problem in 2012. Railroads have been becoming congested because
of the sheer volume of product that must be shipped to
oilfields. In response to this, many companies formed
partnerships and agreements in 2012 with local transport
IM reported in
August that the Canadian National Railway had signed an
agreement to haul frac sand from Superior Silica Sands
new 2.4m tpa frac sand storage facility in Wisconsin, US.
Also during the summer, US Silica
joined up with BNSF Railway Co. to build a new 15,000-tonne
storage facility in San Antonio, Texas, US.
The company contracted Canadian
Pacific to be the exclusive rail service provider for its new
frac sand facility in Sparta, Wisconsin, US.
In November, IM
reported that Wisconsin Energy Corp. was planning to invest
approximately $150m in a natural gas distribution network that
will help power Wisconsins burgeoning silica sand mining
A host of privately-owned Chinese
energy companies took part in the latest bidding round for
shale gas exploration projects in late October as China looked
to cash-in on the unconventional energy source.
China has proven shale gas reserves
of 32 trillion cubic feet and consumed 2 trillion cubic metres
of natural gas in 2011, according to the US Energy Information
China has an active ceramic
proppant manufacturing industry, but the amount of actual
silica sand mining activity is unclear.
Things took a turn for the better
in Europe during in November as a ban on shale gas was blocked
as politicians decided to look into a robust regulatory regime
to address environmental and other concerns surrounding the gas
This approval of shale gas, and
therefore fracking, extended to the UK in December as the
government prepared to launch a new gas strategy.
A report released by the government
in April said that there was no reason why fracking
should not continue in the UK and later, in October, revealed
plans for a targeted tax regime for the shale gas industry.
reported in September that exploration had
begun for high- purity silica sand in the South East Asian
nation of Brunei Darussalam on the island of Borneo in the
South China Sea.
Initial analyses showed that there
is a resource of several million tonnes of high-purity silica
sand. The resource is at the surface and extends over more than