The granting of a conditional use permit on June 6 for a sand mine in the town of Union may strike many as the arrival of sand mines in the Waupaca County.
In fact, sand mine operations have been active for about two or three years in southeastern Waupaca County.
Unlike sand pits dug in loose sand, sand mines are excavated in coherent formations of sandstone rock.
The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey’s “Frac Sand in Wisconsin” fact sheet (http://wisconsingeologicalsurvey.org/pdfs/frac-sand-factsheet.pdf) contains a map of the statewide distribution of sandstone formations and associated frac sand mines and processing plants.
The map indicates a frac sand facility in southeastern Waupaca County.
According to WGNHS contacts for the fact sheet, the facility is Proppant Specialists, a frac sand processing plant belonging to the company FTS International (www.ftsi.com/operations/proppants/Pages/sand-mines-and-processing.aspx).
It is located with a rail spur along the Wisconsin Central Ltd. Railroad just east of County Road W and the Larsen Cooperative in North Readfield.
The plant screens and processes raw mined sands from proprietary Wisconsin sources and produces sand products in a variety of sizes for use in oil and gas well stimulation.
The sand sources in Waupaca County include limestone quarries like the Black Creek Limestone Co., of MCC Inc., on Guhl Road, just north of Readfield and the Proppant Specialists site.
Traditionally, the company mined Ordovician-age Prairie du Chien dolomite rock – a kind of limestone enriched in magnesium carbonate as well as calcium carbonate.
The dolomite overlies the older Cambrian-age sandstones of Wisconsin, which are highly valued in the oil and gas industries as fracking sand for stimulating the release of oil and gas from shale formations.
Black Creek Limestone and other quarries with similar geology have in recent years begun mining the deeper Cambrian sandstone to take advantage of the frac sand market by selling the sand to Proppant Specialists.
The Proppant Specialists’ site may become an important beachhead for the development of sand mines in Waupaca County.
The map of the WGNHS frac sand fact sheet shows clearly that potentially exploitable sandstone deposits in Waupaca County run east-west along the southern border townships (Dayton, Lind, Weyauwega, Fremont, Caledonia) and north-south along the eastern border townships (Matteson, Lebanon, Mukwa, Caledonia).
Proppant Specialists resides in Caledonia on a railroad line at the intersection of these trends, with road access from the west and the north.
I have been studying data from thousands of wells throughout Waupaca County to check out the bedrock geology of townships along these trends and elsewhere throughout the county.
For the record, I am a retired U.S. Geological Survey geologist.
I grew up and went to school in Weyauwega.
I have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a doctorate in geology from the University of Arizona.