Episodes - Lessons
Industrial Sand Mining 101
Industrial Sand Mining 101

Ah, so you already "know" that mining and using frac sand, or "industrial sand", is a bad deal, right? Before you answer, consider where you learned that. You may have formed your opinion from biased sources that presented a negative image because it made for more controversial news or supported a particular perspective. A skewed perspective can sometimes speak in a stronger voice than factual science.

That's why we want you to become real scientists here by forming your own conclusions based on the facts that you discover. That is an important part of the scientific process. Do your own independent research such as digging into the science here, the links at the bottom of this page, and within other recent scientific studies and different online sources. You may be surprised by what you uncover.

The chemistry and geology of industrial sand in the Upper Midwest is relatively simple and very ancient. Sand is made up primarily of quartz. It's silica, or SiO2. It's the most common silica crystal and the second most common mineral on the earth. And because of its chemical and physical properties, it's key in making many of things that make our modern lives possible. Rather than simply tell you, watch the video above to get a better idea. Doing your own online research will reveal even more uses.

But why mine industrial sand when deserts and beaches are covered with tons of sand? The answer is that different kinds of sand have different chemical and physical properties. To be classified as industrial sand, the sand source needs to contain a large percentage of very pure silica sand, with uniform grain size and clean, well-rounded grains. The silicon-oxygen atoms that make up pure silica quartz form one of nature’s hardest minerals. One of the geologic factors that created sedimentary layers of industrial-quality sandstone is that the sand was "washed and sorted" for millions of years in an ancient sea by tides, currents, wave action, and storms. Most of the impurities got washed away while the sand grains became extremely rounded and sorted into very uniform spheres. In some of the sandstone layers they almost resemble clusters of miniature eggs.

This rare silica sand layer of sedimentary rock was deposited in an ancient sea 500 million years ago that used to be located in parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. Because this particular sandstone layer is only exposed at or near the surface in some places, it makes certain sites in Wisconsin and Minnesota very important to the sand mining industry.

To find out more about the wide range of uses for industrial-quality sand, read the "Learn More" section below, and watch the video above. Be sure to explore these other related serious science videos and their companion lesson activities on industrial sand mining, with your teachers and fellow students for some fun interactive peer learning.

The educational partner listed below supported the science video content you see here. Visit their page to learn more about their sand mining operations.