Silica Sand Mining and Fracking

“I want to go to the school and apologise to those kids for what my generation is doing to this earth.”

Retired health and Safety Inspector, Wyalusa, Pennsylvania

A Pagan friend of mine recently drew my attention to a campaign to defend West Bilney Wood in Norfolk . The threat? Mining for silica sand.

West Bilney Wood sits on the Sandringham Sand Formation in Norfolk. This is one of five areas identified by the British Geological Survey (which you might think would be interested in preserving geology rather than destroying it) as being suitable for mining fracking sand. The others are

  • Woburn Sand Formation (Bedfordshire)
  • Folkestone Formation (Surrey & Kent)
  • Chelford & Congleton Sands (Cheshire)
  • Wind blown sand (North Lincolnshire)

Silica sand is added to fracking fluid as a proppent. The sand gets into the fissures created by hydraulic fracturing and keeps them open so that the gas contained in the shale will flow out.

In addition to the destruction of landscape and wildlife caused by mining the sand which necessitates processing plants and heavy lorry traffic as well as bulldozing large holes, mining silica sand has substantial health risks for operatives and for those living nearby.

Clouds of dust are generated with consequent risks of silicosis, a fatal respiratory disease. You can see graphic details and an explanation of the science of this here  on a video made in Wyalusa, Pennsylvania where the industry is well established. The quote at the beginning of this piece comes from a retired Heath and Safety Inspector speaking on this film.

Recent blogs here looked at the threat to Sherwood Forest from fracking as well as the value of forests in themselves. Here are more trees threatened, this time by an extractive industry that is principally being conducted in support of fracking. This year The Woodland Trust is launching its Charter for Trees  Obscenely, in my opinion, opencast mining and tar sands operations refer to everything above the desired mineral deposits as “overburden” to be scraped off. As Pagans, we do not have to work out our feelings about trees. We love them.  We create relationships with them.

Extractive industries may talk about restoration of sites. The Woodland Trust plants new trees as well as defending old forests. But let us make no mistake: planting new trees is no substitute for maintaining the complexity and beauty of old woodlands like West Bilney and Sherwood Forest.

In the struggle against fracking we have to consider the industries that supply it as well as the drilling companies themselves.  Everything is connected. Just because your area may not be a candidate for extreme gas extraction does not mean there is room for complacency.


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