Sand for fracking has already been mined in Cheshire so this is not a hypothetical threat. The sand for Cuadrilla Resources hydraulic fracturing tests at Preese Hall in 2011 was mined at Bent Farm Quarry near Congleton and Dingle Bank Quarry near Chelford. Both quarries are operated by Sibelco, the largest frac sand supplier in the world. However, the real threat comes from the potential for a vast expansion in sand. In a few short years the US state of Wisconsin has seen the number of sand mines grow from a handful to over 100 to supply the fracking boom in the US. The average hydraulic fracturing treatment in the US has grown to around 4,000 tons of sand per well in the last decade, with the record frack using 25,000 tons. With 100,000s of wells drilled the demand for frac sand is chewing up southern Wisconsin.
The Congleton & Chelford Sands in Cheshire have been identified by the British Geological Survey (PDF -page 14) as one of the small number of sand formations in the UK which is suitable for producing frac sand. Only certain types of sand which round and smooth enough are suitable as frac sand, and even then processing is needed to select a certain range of grain sizes. At Preese Hall Cuadrilla use two different sizes of sand (PDF -page 15) from Cheshire. CH-52 is pure silica industrial Chelford sand graded to 0.2-0.3mm in size from Sibelco’s Dingle Bank quarry in Cheshire. HST‐80 is pure silica industrial Congleton sand graded to 0.1-0.2mm in size from Sibelco’s Bent Farm quarry in Cheshire.
Sibelco is now planning a new quarry at Rudheath Lodge Farm near Goostrey. It submitted a planning application in October 2016, but is now being forced to resubmit the application due to the level of public opposition. Sibelco’s investigations have shown that there are around 3.3 million tons of Devensian age glacio-fluvial (deposited by rivers associated with melting glaciers) industrial silica sand which which would be “suitable after processing, for high specification industrial applications” such as fracking. The majority of the sand grain sizes are in the range 0.15-0.35mm (PDF – page 5) which at would allow least the larger grade of frac sand produced at Dingle Bank (and probably both) to be produced. All sand needs to undergo significant washing and sieving to select out the correct range of grain sizes, but the initial distribution of grain sizes limits the grades which can be produced.
This quarry might not begin by supplying sand to fracking companies, since production from Dingle Bank and Bent Farm (and Sibelco’s Leziate Quarry in Norfolk) might be enough to cover demand from fracking a few test wells. However, if fracking was allowed to take hold in Lancashire (or any other area in the UK), fracking of hundreds and then thousands of wells would create demand for many, many quarries worth of frac sand. This sand would have to come from somewhere and Cheshire, along with Norfolk, are the main areas in the firing line. This is not about one quarry, but the potential creation of what would effectively be a whole new industry which would chew up large areas of Cheshire. If Lancashire is to be fracked then large numbers of new sand mines will have to be create to supply the sand and so the fates of communities in Cheshire and fracking areas across the country are linked. Resisting the activities of frac sand companies like Sibelco is as important fracking companies like Cuadrilla, and communities inside and outside Cheshire need to work together if they do not want their local areas to be trashed.