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The Price of Sand

Thursday, 13 June 2013 15:54

By Ellen Cantarow, Truthout | Movie Review

Screen grab of “The Price of Sand” via

In the gorgeous countryside of western Wisconsin, along the Mississippi; in Minnesota, across the river; and in Iowa, just to the north, hills and bluffs rise, breathtaking in their beauty, the region’s ecological and touristic patrimony. That patrimony is being hacked apart and carted away, used in other rural places to exploit other ancient formations.

Under the hills’ covering of trees and greenery lies dazzlingly white, 400 million-year-old Jordan sandstone. It contains silica – perfectly rounded crystalline grains strong enough to withstand the enormous pressures of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The technology, which fractures deep rock formations to force out the methane they contain, pumps millions of gallons of chemical-and-sand-laced water underground at high pressures. The blasts fracture the rock; the silica props the fractures open, allowing the gas to flow continuously upward. The industry can’t do without the silica – hence the gold rush in sand that is destroying landscapes, particularly in Wisconsin and Illinois, but increasingly in Minnesota.

Much is known about fracking, which has long been in the mainstream, as well as online, news. But little is known about its companion industry, frac-sand mining. If there’s any primer I’d recommend to remedy that ignorance, it’s “The Price of Sand,” a 58-minute jewel of a film just released by Minnesota filmmaker Jim Tittle. “The goal of this project,” he writes at the film’s web site, is to “find the real price of frac sand. Not just in dollars, but in friendships, communities and the future of our region.”

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