The Possible U.S. Oil Boom: What's it Mean for Wisconsin's Sand - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

The Possible U.S. Oil Boom: What's it Mean for Wisconsin's Sand Industry?

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – The United States could become the world's top oil producer by the year 2020 – at least according the International Energy Association's annual "Global Energy Outlook" report.

The report predicts the U.S. will remain at the top of that list for a period of roughly five years.

But while U.S. oil production is on the rise, so too is global demand for oil.

"Oil is a global commodity. It goes all over the world," said Associate Professor of Economics Adam Hoffer, a member of the UW-La Crosse's Department of Economics. "So with rising global demand, we're seeing prices increase all over the world -- in Canada, in the U.S. and even in the Middle East."

Hoffer said even if the United States does eventually become the world's number one oil producer, it won't have much say in the global price of oil.

Even as the top dog, America would be producing just more than 10 percent of the world's total crude oil, according to the CIA World Factbook.

"Being number one still wouldn't give us a majority in the market share of oil," Hoffer said. "There's so much being produced, we're talking about millions of barrels a day, so it's not like we're going to suddenly tell OPEC – the oil producing countries – listen, we produce the most oil now, so this is what the price will be from now on."

But a U.S. oil boom would bring business to Wisconsin's sand mining industry.

Sand found in Wisconsin and Minnesota is critical to the process of Hydraulic Fracturing – in which it's fired into shale bedrock below the ground and used to extract oil and natural gas.

"As long as they're doing hydraulic fracturing, they're going to need sand," said Will Cronin, of the University of Wisconsin-Extension's Monroe County office. "It's going to be a big industry for a long time here. At least that's how it looks."

Fracturing in North Dakota alone requires some 5-million tons of the proper sand each year according to an estimate by Barry Drazkowski, the Executive Director of GeoSpatial Services at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.

But what impact that has on Wisconsin's economy, and what impact it could have in the future if the hydraulic fracturing industry continues to grow, is a somewhat disputed topic.

"It's a tremendous opportunity in jobs for Wisconsin," said Rich Budinger, the President of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association.

"It's not just the jobs on site, but also the other jobs created – such as the manufacturing jobs for the equipment that's used in the (sand) mines."

"These mines are heavily mechanized," Cronin said. "So as big and impressive as they are, they don't take many people to run."

"So you get good jobs, just not very many of them," Cronin added. "You might get 60 or 100 jobs. It's not an insignificant number, but it's not what many people expect." 

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