The Chieftain Metals Corp silica sand mine proposal as a case-study for determing potential changes in soil quality, land-use, and ecosystem services associated with mining in the northern Mississippi Valley
Western Wisconsin is now the North American frac sand mining epicenter with more than 125 mines producing 2.5 million tons per mine. However, with the average shale gas lateral growing by > 50 feet per quarter silica sand usage will grow from 5,500 tons to > 8,000 tons per lateral. This will exacerbate industry’s environmental effects across the northern Great Lakes and Mississippi River Valley.
There is a growing body of research looking at the Land-Use/Land-Cover (LULC) footprint within shale plays, but none examining the concomitant LULC effect of extraction and production of material inputs such as silica sand. There is also limited guidance or data concerning reclamation protocol vis à vis coal mine reclamation. While many mining areas that were initially forested are usually converted to crop agriculture, there may be opportunities to restore native vegetation and benefit wildlife species. Given changes in topography and plant community composition resulting from mining operations, potential habitat for listed species could be created through landowner-scientist collaborations.
Migration of the frac sand industry from the Southwest to the Great Lakes could have a large impact on regional ecosystem productivity and watershed resilience. Much of the Southwest sandstone geology is dominated by scrublands that have low productivity (e.g., 646 g C m-2 yr-1), while the Great Lakes includes highly productive forests and agricultural land (e.g., 1,278 g C m-2 yr-1), with Great Lakes ecosystems producing 1.92 times more soil organic matter and 1.46 times more perennial biomass than Southwestern ecosystems.
We used the recent amalgamated Chieftain Metals Corp silica sand mine proposal in Barron County, Wisconsin as a case-study for determining pre-mine above and belowground land value in an effort to understand the potential for ecosystem service and LULC change and as a way to gauge mine reclamation success in accordance with traditional strip-mine protocol.
We used the Wisconsin Public Land Survey (PLSS) system, 1993 WISCLAND satellite imagery, and NRCS’s STATSGO2 Database to determine pre-mine productivity and valuation.
The six land-covers on this parcel generate $5,531,310-21,033,680 worth of CO2, $337,365-730,891 worth of soil fertility, and $851,272 worth of commodities per annum.
Historical and future land-use potential valuations are generally not accounted for in mineral lease agreements. This analysis demonstrates that such values are nontrivial and should at the very least be incorporated into lease agreements and measures of reclamation success, given that post-mining reclamation strategies can result in lands that are 40% less productive.