Sand mining and fracking

Standing on a beach, the sand seems infinite but it’s being mined at an alarming rate to make concrete. Standing on the edge of an open pit sand mine used for fracking is hazardous and the pit is an ugly scar on the earth.


Sand is necessary for fracking. Once the shale deposits are fractured under high pressure, sand holds the pores open to allow oil or natural gas to flow.

Fracking operations have been suspended as cheap oil floods the market. But fracking will be back and so will the need for frac sand. When that happens, the B.C. Liberals will once again be flogging international markets with our natural gas under the pretence that it’s a clean fuel.

As it is, B.C.’s frac sand must be brought in from other provinces at a cost of $250 to $300 a tonne. Since single fracked well can use 10,000 tonnes, it’s obvious that oil and gas companies would like to have frac sand closer to home.

Not any sand will do; not what you’d find on a beach says Sean Cockerham of McClatchy News:

“Rounded quartz sand is needed because it’s strong enough to handle the pressure and depths involved in fracking. Beach sand is too angular and full of impurities.”

Descriptions for frac sand take on the connoisseurs’ appreciation of the soil for fine wine: the terroir of a particular region’s climate and soils that affect the taste of wine. The “Northern White” sand of Wisconsin is excellent for fracking. The hickory, or brown, sand of Central Texas is less desirable but has the benefit of being close to the home of the best oil and gas fields in the U.S.

Unlike the making of fine wine, the landscape is destroyed in the extraction of fine frac sand. Not only have that, but the piles of sand present a health hazard that’s worsened as a result of the slowdown in fracking says Ryan Schuessler for Aljazeera. Victoria Trinko lives one-half kilometer away from one of these drifting piles of sand.

“’That particular mine started in July 2011,’ Trinko, 69, said. ‘By April of the next year, I had developed a raspy voice. I was wheezing. Sore throat.’ She said her doctor later diagnosed her with asthma resulting from her environment. Her cows have started coughing, too, she said.”

What’s blowing in the wind is c, released into the air during frac sand mining. The mining company is supposed to keep the sand piles damp to keep it from blowing away but with the slowdown, maintenance is not profitable. Silica is a carcinogen and can cause silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to death.

Stikine Energy Corp. of Vancouver thinks it’s found a solution to B.C.’s frac sand problem. Stikine president Scott Broughton says his company has discovered very promising deposits, large enough to support open pit mining. Despite the slowdown, the deposits 90 kilometres north of Prince George are still listed in B.C.’s major project website, waiting to be mined.

The dangers of frac sand should be another nail in the coffin of fracking but once the price of oil soars, watch for a resurrection.

What will we do with all the fracking water?

If the way we treat the dirty water we have is any indication, B.C. is in for a lot grief. The amount of contaminated water is about to increase dramatically because of the government’s dream to frack us into prosperity: export liquid natural gas by hydraulic fracturing.


The shoddy way we treat existing toxic water stored in 110 disposal wells is a deplorable.

How bad? That’s what the Fort Nelson First Nation wanted to find out since a lot of drilling will take place in their back yard. They asked the University of Victoria to investigate. Their report highlights one disposal well in particular, #2240.

An unimaginably huge amount of toxic water has been stored in #2240; enough to fill 16,693 Olympic swimming pools, that is, 41 billion litres. Or put another way, 24 times the volume of the World Trade Centers in New York. So, how is disposal well #2240 holding up after 46 years, you might wonder. Who knows?

The water going into the well has not been tested for chemical content. Water in the surrounding area has not been tested for leakage –it’s a black hole.

Reporter for the Globe and Mail, Mark Hume, says of the report: “And it presents some troubling data – not the least of which concerns the amount of wastewater pumped into the ground at disposal well #2240.”

“Notably, there are no requirements for operators to conduct baseline testing of water systems surrounding the well, or conduct ongoing monitoring of these water systems. There are also no requirements to monitor or disclose the quality or characteristics of the fluid being disposed of in the well.”

What will become of all the new industrial waste water? It doesn’t look good.

The chemical-laced water is bad enough before it goes down the fracking hole and worse when it comes up. Drilling companies are secretive about the chemicals they put in the water but there are hundreds of possibilities according to the Chemical Disclosure registry in the U.S.

Some of those possible chemicals include Hydrochloric acid to help open fractures where the gas is hidden, antibacterials like Gutaraldehyde, gelling agents such as Guar gum to suspend added sand, yet more chemicals to break down the gelling agents.

A lot of this secret chemical cocktail stays down the hole but 20 to 50 per cent comes back up. This mess is euphemistically called “flowback water” which continues for 10 to 14 days until the gas starts to flow.

While the water going down is toxic for decades, it’s lethal for centuries when it comes back up. The UVic report adds that flowback contains “very old water also present in the target zone and in bedrock formations above or below it that may be highly saline and contain naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM).

It hardly inspires confidence, does it? Premier Christy Clark’s headlong rush to frack the heck out the province already faces logistical and market hurdles. The legacy of billions of litres of toxic water is yet another dark cloud about to rain on her parade.