Business leaders say a new oil mining ingredient could cause a 'gold rush' of sorts in central Wisconsin. But with millions in expected revenue, the county doesn't want to get stuck with added expenses.
Frac sand is a large-grained hard substance that modern miners use to keep rock fractures open for oil to seep through. Experts say there is a substantial potential to recover untapped frac sand deposits in central Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.
In Wood County, four new mines are preparing for production. Each one could haul 1 million tons of sand on trucks over county roads each year, but so far only one of those companies has agreed to pay for road upgrades.
"This is several decades. We expect to be here 25 to 35 to 40 years," said Gene Noonan, Northern Frac Sand President. His company came to an agreement with Wood County this month to fund a study, and then the construction of stronger roads along a 2.5 mile stretch around their quarries near Vesper. He could begin sending trucks down County Road C as soon as next year.
"Typically you're mining a sand or sandstone formations," said Noonan. "In our scenario about 50 percent of that material generally is usable frac sand."
The construction could cost his company more than $500,000.
"Even if we build out to a full $100 million of infrastructure construction, that only translates to about $500,000 of county tax levy which translates to about 1 mile of road reconstruction," said Wood County Board supervisor Lance Pliml.
Pliml is busy negotiating with the other mining companies. He says their talks are amicable, but still unresolved.
"If you have a plant that is 5 miles away from your facility or in this case your wash plant and you can't get your raw materials to your wash plant because roads are closed because of safety issues, and in today's world we're certainly aware of liability issues, that would be a worst-case-scenario," he said.
The other three mines are in the Marshfield area.