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Transportation Impacts of Frac Sand Mining in the MAFC Region: Chippewa County Case Study

White Paper Series: 2013 - National Center for Freight & Infrastructure Research & Education -Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
College of Engineering - University of Wisconsin–Madison

Authors: Maria V. Hart, Teresa Adams, and Andrew Schwartz

INTRODUCTION

The boom in oil and gas production using hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology to extract oil and gas from shale has created thriving industries all along its supply chain. The increased production of the supplies needed for drilling—sand, water, chemicals, pipe, and rigs—all with different transportation characteristics, have also strained the transportation system at the source of production, processing, and distribution.

Plentiful and easily accessible deposits of sand suitable for fracking (frac sand) exist in the Midwest, especially in Wisconsin. Here, private industry investment levels are indicative of a 20 to 30 year life span for the emerging frac sand industry, correlating with the life span estimates of recoverable oil in shale formations (Stark, 2012). These investments include the purchase or leasing of land for sand mines, construction of mines and sand processing plants, and rail and road infrastructure improvements. At full build-out the frac sand mining industry will be characterized by mining twenty-four hours a day, five days a week, heavy truck moves over rural roads, and unit or manifest trains moving approximately 40 million
tons of sand a year out of Wisconsin (Wisconsin Department of Transportation NW Region Planning Staff, 2012).

Road damage over local roads is a concern for many communities. County governments have used a number of mechanisms to recover the costs of road damage both for drilling areas and sand mining areas. Chippewa County, Wisconsin serves as a  model of how local government is using road use or road upgrade maintenance agreements (RUMA) to recover road damages, fund maintenance, and grade crossing improvements.

This white paper examines Chippewa’s road use agreements and discusses the emerging transportation impacts and implications for neighboring counties, state-level policy, and the need for a regional approach when assessing transportation impacts.

The current federal surface transportation legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), recognizes the importance of
energy corridors and encourages the identification of routes serving energy production sites. States are also encouraged to develop freight plans and include a description of improvements that may be required to reduce or impede the deterioration of routes on which travel by heavy vehicles (including mining, agricultural, energy cargo or equipment, and timber vehicles) is projected to substantially deteriorate the condition of roadways.

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