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Sand mining is a practice that is used to extract sand, mainly through an open pit. However, sand is also mined from beaches, inland dunes and dredged from ocean beds and river beds. It is often used in manufacturing as an abrasive, for example, and it is used to make concrete. It is also used in cold regions to put on the roads by municipal plow trucks to help icy and snowy driving conditions, usually mixed with salt or another mixture to raise the freezing temperature of the road surface. Sand dredged from the mouths of rivers can also be used to replace eroded coastline.
Another reason for sand mining is the extraction of minerals such as rutile, ilmenite and zircon, which contain the industrially useful elements titanium and zirconium. These minerals typically occur combined with ordinary sand, which is dug up, the valuable minerals being separated in water by virtue of their different densities, and the remaining ordinary sand re-deposited.
Sand mining is a direct cause of erosion, and also impacts the local wildlife. For example, sea turtles depend on sandy beaches for their nesting, and sand mining has led to the near extinction of gharials (a species of crocodiles) in India. Disturbance of underwater and coastal sand causes turbidity in the water, which is harmful for such organisms as corals that need sunlight. It also destroys fisheries, causing problems for people who rely on fishing for their livelihoods.
Removal of physical coastal barriers such as dunes leads to flooding of beachside communities, and the destruction of picturesque beaches causes tourism to dissipate. Sand mining is regulated by law in many places, but is still often done illegally.
In the 1940 mining operations began on the Kurnell Peninsula (Captain Cook's landing place in Australia) to supply the expanding Sydney building market. It continued until 1990 with an estimate of over 70 million tonnes of sand having been removed. The sand has been valued for many decades by the building industry, mainly because of its high crushed shell content and lack of organic matter, it has provided a cheap source of sand for most of Sydney since sand mining operations began. The site has now been reduced to a few remnant dunes and deep water-filled pits which are now being filled with demolition waste from Sydney's building sites. Removal of the sand has significantly weakened the peninsula's capacity to resist storms. Ocean waves pounding against the reduced Kurnell dune system have threatened to break through to Botany Bay, especially during the storms of May and June back in 1974 and of August 1998. Sand Mining also takes place in the Stockton sand dunes north of Newcastle and in the Broken Hill region in the far west of the state.
A large and long running sand mine in Queensland, Australia (on North Stradbroke Island) provides a case study in the (disastrous) environmental consequences on a fragile sandy-soil based ecosystem, justified by the provision of low wage casual labor on an island with few other work options. The Labor state government pledged to end sandmining by 2025, but this decision was overturned by the LNP government which succeeded it. This decision has been subject to allegation of corrupt conduct.
Sand mining contributes to the construction of buildings and development. However, the negative effects of sand mining include the permanent loss of sand in areas, as well as major habitat destruction.
Sand mining is a practice that is becoming an environmental issue in India. Environmentalists have raised public awareness of illegal sand mining in the state of Maharashtra and Goa of India. Conservation and environmental NGO Awaaz Foundation filed a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court seeking a ban on mining activities along the Konkan coast. Awaaz Foundation, in partnership with the Bombay Natural History Society also presented the issue of sand mining as a major international threat to coastal biodiversity at the Conference of Parties 11, Convention on Biological Diversity, Hyderabad in October 2012.  D. K. Ravi, an Indian Administrative Service officer of the Karnataka state, who was well known for his tough crackdown on the rampant illegal sand mining in the Kolar district, was found dead at his residence in Bengaluru, on march 16, 2015. It is widely alleged that the death is not due to suicide but the handiwork of the mafia involved in land grabbing and sand mining.
Sand mining occurs in the Kaipara Harbour, off the coast at Pakiri and offshore from Little Barrier Island. A sand mine had operated at Whiritoa on the east coast of the North Island for 50 years extracting 180,000m3 of sand. Coastal sand mines currently operate at Maioro and Taharoa to recover iron sand. When an application was lodged in 2005 to mine iron sands on the seabed of the coast of Raglan local residents organised in opposition to the scheme. The application for the mining was turned down by Crown Minerals due to a lack of technical detail.
Recently, activists and local villagers have protested against sand mining on Sierra Leone's Western Area Peninsular. The activity is providing informal work for people who would otherwise be unemployed, but is also destroying the natural beauty of the area, driving away tourists, business owners and residents, and contributing to Sierra Leone's coastal erosion, which is proceeding at up to 6 meters a year.
The current size of the sand mining market in the United States is slightly over a billion dollars per year. The industry has been growing by nearly 10% annually since 2005 because of its use in hydrocarbon extraction. The majority of the market size for mining is held by Texas and Illinois.
Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana and Iowa
Silica sand mining business has more than doubled since 2009 because of the need for this particular type of sand, which is used in a process known as hydraulic fracturing. Wisconsin is one of the five states that produce nearly 2/3 of the nation’s silica. As of 2009, Wisconsin, along with other northern states, is facing an industrial mining boom, being dubbed the "sand rush" because of the new demand from large oil companies for silica sand. According to Minnesota Public Radio, "One of the industry's major players, U.S. Silica, says its fracking sand sales nearly doubled from 2009 to 2010, from $36 million to $70 million in 2010 and brought in nearly $70 million in just the first nine months of 2011." According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), there are currently 34 active mines and 25 mines in development in Wisconsin. In 2012, the WDNR released a final report on the silica sand mining in Wisconsin titled Silica Sand Mining in Wisconsin. The recent boom in silica sand mining has caused concern from residents in Wisconsin that include quality of life issues and the threat of silicosis. However, these are issues that the state has no authority to regulate. According to the WDNR (2012) these issues include noise, lights, hours of operation, damage and excessive wear to roads from trucking traffic, public safety concerns from the volume of truck traffic, possible damage and annoyance resulting from blasting, and concerns regarding aesthetics and land use changes.
As of 2013, industrial frack sand mining has become a cause for activism, especially in the Driftless Area of southeast Minnesota, northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin.
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- Industrial Sand Mining Industry Trends and Market Size Research
- MPR News Primer: Frac Sand Mining
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