In 2015, industrial sand and gravel valued at about $8.3 billion was produced by 230 companies from 335 operations in 35 states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s latest Mineral Commodity Survey. The value of production of industrial sand and gravel in 2015 remained unchanged over the previous year.
Leading states were, in order of tonnage produced were Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio, North Carolina and Louisiana.
Combined production from these states accounted for 83 percent of the domestic total, according to mineral commodity specialist Thomas P. Dolley. About 71 percent of the U.S. tonnage was used as hydraulic-fracturing sand and well packing, and cementing sand; 8 percent as other whole-grain silica; 7 percent as glassmaking sand; 6 percent as foundry sand; 2 percent, each, as whole-grain fillers and building products, and other ground silica; 1 percent as ground and unground sand for chemicals; and 3 percent for other uses.
U.S. apparent consumption of industrial sand and gravel was 90.7 million tons in 2015, a 14 percent decrease from that of the previous year. Mine output was sufficient to accommodate many uses, which included ceramics, chemicals, container, fillers (ground and whole grain), filtration, flat and specialty glass, foundry, hydraulic fracturing, and recreational uses.
Decreased demand for hydraulic-fracturing sand to support production of natural gas and petroleum from shale deposits has led to slackened production beginning at year-end 2014 and continuing into 2015.
New and more efficient hydraulic-fracturing techniques, which require more silica sand use per well (mostly for secondary recovery at mature wells) could stabilize demand for hydraulic-fracturing sand, Dolley noted. Although the United States remains a net exporter of industrial sand and gravel, imports in 2015 increased to about 300,000 tons from 244,000 tons in 2014.
Imports of silica are generally of two types – small shipments of very high-purity silica or a few large shipments of lower grade silica shipped only under special circumstances (for example, very low freight rates). Exports of industrial sand and gravel increased slightly in 2015 compared with those of 2014.
The industrial sand and gravel industry continued to be concerned with safety and health regulations and environmental restrictions in 2015, especially those concerning crystalline silica exposure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formulating new regulations to further restrict exposure to crystalline silica at mine sites, with final implementation scheduled for January 2017.
Local shortages of industrial sand and gravel were expected to continue to increase owing to local zoning regulations and land development alternatives, including ongoing development and permitting of operations producing hydraulic-fracturing sand.
Natural gas and petroleum operations that use hydraulic fracturing may also undergo increased scrutiny. These situations are expected to cause future sand and gravel operations to be located farther from high-population centers, Dolley concluded.