THE PRICE OF SAND Silica Mines, Small Towns, and Money


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“The Price of Sand” is a documentary about the frac sand mining boom in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Due to a rapid increase in demand, pure silica sand has become a valuable commodity, and mines are opening here at a rapid rate.

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“The Price of Sand” is a documentary about the frac sand mining boom in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Due to a rapid increase in demand, pure silica sand has become a valuable commodity, and mines are opening here at a rapid rate.

The silica used in hydraulic fracturing (aka : “fracking”), has other uses– glass manufacturing and toothpaste, for instance — and a few established mines have been in operation here for decades. But now, new companies have arrived, and land with accessible silica deposits is selling for high prices.

In addition to a bonanza for a few lucky landowners, the new mines promise jobs and economic stimulus for the small towns and rural areas nearby.

Midwest Pictures, LLC
Director/Executive Producer: Jim Tittle

60 minutes


In Frac Sand Land, Residents Have Little Protection Against Silica Dust Exposure
Earth Island Institute

Wisconsin is bearing the brunt of the impacts of the country’s burgeoning frac sand industry. More than 100 frac sand mines have cropped up in the state in the past five years.

The Price of Sand Movie Review
June 13, 2013
By Ellen Cantarow

Additional information

Weight 0.32 lbs
Dimensions 9 × 6 × 0.5 in
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  1. staffadmin

    The Price of Sand: Silica Mines, Small Towns and Money ***
    by K. Fennessy

    Minnesota filmmaker Jim Tittle’s documentary looks at one of the side issues surrounding hydraulic fracturing. Mining companies are busily excavating crystalline silica, aka sand, which plays a part in “fracking” (and also ends up in glassware and toothpaste). In order to gauge what lies ahead for his state, Tittle speaks with citizens, workers, and scientists in neighboring Wisconsin and Iowa, where frac-sand mining runs rampant. One gentleman asks, “What will it do to our water”? Other speakers express concerns about animal welfare and property values, while a public health expert cautions that silica dust—a known carcinogen—can lead to a condition known as silicosis if ingested in significant amounts. Although some home owners have been able to sell their properties, others have had no luck in attracting buyers and must stay and face the consequences. For those living in the wake of the mining operations, the accompanying noise, traffic, dust, and increasing respiratory problems (such as asthma) have become concerns. Since many of these small towns cater to tourists, business owners are also seeing a decrease in profits.

    Besides interview clips, Tittle includes aerial footage of the affected areas, coupled with excerpts from heated public meetings. Presenting a compelling case about the myriad harms tied to frac-sand mining, this is recommended. Aud: C, P. (K. Fennessy)

  2. staffadmin

    Reviewed by Andrew Jenks, California State University, Long Beach

    Highly Recommended Highly Recommended

    Date Entered: 2/25/2014

    In the last ten years hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as “fracking,” has transformed the energy industry in the United States, creating a new energy boom. But perhaps the greatest impact of the industry has been on rural communities throughout the country. Those communities sit atop the lands ripe for the extraction of natural gas from shale. Landowners have become instant millionaires. Sleepy hamlets have turned into boom towns. This documentary tells another side of the story of hydraulic fracturing – the story of the communities in Wisconsin and Minnesota where pure silica sand mines are located. The sand from these silica deposits is essential to the process of hydraulic fracturing in oil production. “Frac sand,” as it is called in industry speak, is used in combination with water and various chemicals to fracture shale and release natural gas and oil – a technique that has transformed the sand itself into proverbial gold. While the environmental destruction caused by the process of hydraulic fracturing has attracted much press, little attention, until now, has focused on the ancillary industries which produce the necessary raw materials.
    Those in favor of silica mining characterize everyone as winners – a story line that this documentary clearly and compellingly reveals to be untrue. But where big profits and money are concerned, few bother to listen to the story of the losers, who are often dismissed as anti-progress and jobs killers. In a process that the economist Joseph Schumpeter once dubbed the “creative destruction” of capitalism, older communities and the economies that sustain them are the primary victims of profit-driven development.

    The primary strength of this documentary is to focus on the human impact of “frac sand” for hydraulic fracturing, the unexpected and often unexamined interconnections between technology, society, and culture. Perhaps most disturbing is the degree to which politicians and regulators allow the mining companies to operate in almost complete secrecy, buying up land and setting up mines with no requirements for environmental impact statements and public discussions. In the interest of development, regulators and politicians have waived those requirements.

    The scale and speed of the new industry’s growing footprint is astounding: in two years Wisconsin has experienced a tenfold increase in sand frac mines. Extracting the sand requires open-pit mining that turns thousands of acres of rolling hills and mountainsides into pockmarked, de-forested holes. One truck filled with tons of sand passes down small county roads and down the main street of sleepy hamlets every 15 seconds, night and day. The mines also produce tons of dust that settles onto and into nearby homes; industry representatives and state officials characterize it as harmless, though silica dust, according to experts, can be very toxic. To avoid asthmatic reactions residents must wear masks outside. As one farmer put it: “You can farm the same land over and over again. But once you mine it, it’s gone.”

    It is a truism, though one often ignored, that democracy only works if people make it work for them. Only when it is often too late do people realize that the system has been rigged in favor of business and industrial interests. Yet it would also be far too simplistic to posit a divide between the interests of the “people” and the rich and exploitative. Many locals benefit from the infusion of money that the energy industry brings into the local community, pitting not simply the community against the newcomers but individuals and families within the community against each other. The documentary avoids facile conclusions about evil outsiders exploiting locals and instead focuses on the divisions within the communities that the new energy boom, along with natural gas and oil, has created.

  3. staffadmin

    VIEWER COMMENTS FROM AN APRIL 2014 broadcast of THE PRICE OF SAND on Wisconsin Public Television

    I loved the documentary The Price of Sand and wanted to know if it will be playing again. Such a great film and an alarming issue for Wisconsin/Minnesota. Can’t believe the governor hasn’t done anything about it.

    I was watching The Price of Sand. I would love for you to send a copy of this film to the Glenwood City Public Library as soon as you can.

    Glenwood City is going through the frac sand mining thing right and the people don’t want it but the Mayor is just gung ho and like it said in the show, it’s a money issue. So I would love to have you send this as soon as possible because they are making their decisions within days.

    Excellent film! (The Price of Sand) Should be shown during an earlier time when more people can see it. Can’t believe we are letting this healthy destroying industry go on in Wisconsin.

    I just watched The Price of Sand and I am so upset, I really cant collect my thoughts to correctly express my feelings. I’m so upset that people can’t speak up when such corruption and back door polices are going on. And they know, they know; it’s money. Please, please keep reporting the way you do even though it upsets us. How much can good people take? Thank you for reporting this, God Bless Us and America. Amen.

    The documentary The Price of Sand was excellent! The quality, composition, people interviewed. I wish there was more from Kristen Pierce and more talk about the health effects of the particulate.

    I just finished watching The Price of Sand. This was fantastic. It ought to be submitted to Sundance Film Festival. It ought to be shown more times. I’m a sustainer.

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