The Union sand mine may be a harbinger of future developments in Waupaca County.
Four local townships have enough of the sand used by the hydro-fracking industry to generate a potential sand mining boom comparable to what has happened in western Wisconsin.
Dr. Terry Gerlach is a retired geologist who has worked with the Wisconsin Geological Survey, U.S. Steel Corp., Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico and with the U.S. Geological Survey.
He also worked with his father’s business, Weyauwega-Fremont Well Drilling, as a youth.
Gerlach has studied thousands of well-drilling reports throughout the county. He presented his findings Sept. 25 at the Waupaca Area Public Library.
Well-drilling companies must send a report to the Department of Natural Resources for each well, Gerlach said.
The report describes where the well is located, what materials were found below the surface and how deep each of the different strata of materials are.
Gerlach offered, as an example, a drilling report from a well located on Tellock’s Hill in rural Bear Creek, near the site of the proposed sand mine in the town of Union.
The report indicated the first 66 feet below the surface were clay and loose stone, the second strata was sandstone down to 198 feet below the surface and the third strata was granite for another 27 feet until the well reached an effective depth.
Since 1987, the DNR has received 6,309 well-drilling reports from Waupaca County.
The vast majority of those wells, 4,846, were relatively shallow and did not hit bedrock.
Of the 1,463 wells which hit bedrock, 624 passed through sandstone.
Identifying towns with sand
Gerlach presented a series of charts, based on the drilling reports, which identified towns as “Have Lots,” “Have Gots,” “Have Spots” and “Have Nots.”
The “Have Lots” included Caledonia, Fremont, Weyauwega and Mukwa.
Out of 286 bedrock wells in Caledonia, 283 passed through sandstone.
In Fremont, 125 wells transected sandstone out of 139 that reached bedrock.
In Mukwa, 96 of 154 bedrock wells transected sandstone, while 40 of 49 bedrock wells hit sandstone in Weyauwega.
Gerlach noted Caledonia is where Waupaca County not only has more and larger sand mines and quarries, it is also the location of the county’s only sand processing plant.
“The southeast is very impressive compared to the rest of the county,” Gerlach said.
Caledonia’s sandstone is also close to the surface, which makes it less expensive to mine.
In Caledonia, 81 of the wells hit sandstone at less than 50 feet deep, while 231 wells transected sandstone at under 100 feet.
Caledonia’s sandstone strata is also relatively thick. Gerlach estimated its thickness at about 187 feet.
Towns identified as “Have Gots” included Royalton, Dayton, Lebanon and Lind.
In Dayton, 18 of 22 bedrock wells found sandstone, while 29 of 76 bedrock wells found sandstone in Royalton. In Lebanon, 12 of 39 wells had sandstone, while six of 16 wells had sandstone in Lind.
Towns identified as “Have Spots” included Union, Bear Creek, Farmington, Little Wolf, Matteson and St. Lawrence, where only a handful of bedrock wells indicated the presence of sandstone.
A total of seven wells had sandstone in Union and Bear Creek, but nearly all of them were located near Tellock’s Hill.
No sandstone was found in the wells of the towns Gerlach called the “Have Nots.” These towns included Dupont, Harrison, Helvetia, Iola, Larrabee, Scandinavia, Waupaca and Wyoming.
Gerlach presented a map of Waupaca County showing where the bedrock wells transected sandstone.
The numbers formed a pattern which radiated out from the southeast corner where the largest numbers of wells with sandstone were found, to the northeast corner, where no wells with sandstone were found.
Gerlach offered several caveats to his findings and said they were not complete.
“A weakness is that water wells are drilled where people are,” Gerlach said, regarding the limits of the data.
“I see things that really suggest to me that there is sandstone below the surface of Tellock’s Hill, but there are not a lot of wells,” Gerlach said.
He said he also suspects there is a lot of sand in southern Farmington, but there is not a lot of data because the wells there are shallow where the groundwater is closer to the surface.
In Farmington, 822 wells have been drilled since 1987, but only 69 of those hit bedrock.
In Caledonia, out of 309 wells, 286 reached bedrock.
In the towns of Union and Bear Creek combined, where a total of 311 wells have been drilled, 99 hit bedrock.
Based on the well-drilling reports and the visible geological evidence, Gerlich speculated large areas of Caledonia, Fremont and Weyauwega could be developed into frac-sand mines.
Spots in the southeast corner of Mukwa also have the potential to become sand mines.
Other areas he tentatively identified as possible sand mine locations included the area south of White Lake in Royalton, a section on the border of Lebanon and Little Wolf, spots in Dayton and Lind, as well as the area around Tellock’s Hill in Union and Bear Creek.