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Sand and Gravel

Mining operations in Virginia produced 9.3 million short tons of sand and gravel in 2016 with an estimated market value of $111 million.

Sand and gravel natural aggregate resources in Virginia are relatively plentiful and have long been utilized in the highway and building construction industries. Natural aggregate is a main component of concrete and asphalt, adding strength to building foundations and durability to roof shingles.  Transportation infrastructure consumes enormous quantities of construction aggregate for bridges, roads, airport runways, sidewalks, and pathways.  The National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association has estimated that about 38,000 tons of aggregates are required to build one lane-mile of interstate highway.  Sand and gravel are favored landscaping materials and also used in recreational applications such as golf courses, volleyball courts, and lake-side beaches.  Aggregates serve essential roles in erosion control, water filtration and coastal shoreline protection.

Location of sand and gravel extraction sites

The costs of transporting construction aggregates from the mine source to the end user are a major factor controlling the marketable geographic range, which is typically within a 25 to 30 mile radius of the mine site.  The economic impacts of aggregates production and utilization, measured in part by the number of mining and construction-related jobs and associated services, are thus mainly felt at the local community and regional level.  In 2016, there were 242 permitted mine operations producing natural aggregates in 54 counties in Virginia.  These operations were conducted by 194 separate companies that directly employed 769 miners and office support staff.  This employment number does not include the many other independent contractors who may have worked part-time or full time in mining-related jobs at these operations.

Most of the sand and gravel produced in Virginia is extracted from surface pits located in the Coastal Plain province.  Natural aggregate is mined mainly from sand and gravel deposited as riverine and coastal terraces during the Quaternary and Tertiary geologic periods.  Cretaceous sand and gravel deposits in the Potomac Group are also mined.  In the Blue Ridge and eastern Piedmont provinces, sand is extracted at several sites from modern river terrace deposits.  Sand and gravel is dredged from rivers in Augusta, Frederick, Page, Rockingham and other counties in the Valley and Ridge province. Sand is also produced from residuum over the Devonian Ridgeley Sandstone in Craig County.  In the Appalachian Plateaus region, sand and gravel has been dredged in the past from the Levisa and Clinch Rivers. 

The economic downturn in the United States known as the Great Recession (late-2007 to 2009) had a significant impact on the production of construction aggregate in Virginia.  In the five years preceding the recession (2002-2006), the total amount of sand and gravel produced by mines in Virginia averaged about 15.1 million short tons (13.7 million metric tons) per year. The rapid decline in annual production reported after 2006 may reflect early signals of decreasing market demand and the onset of the recessionary period that lasted through 2009.  In 2010, sand and gravel output totaled 7.9 million short tons (7.1 million metric tons) down about 50 percent from 2006. Mine production today remains below the pre-recession output levels; total sand and gravel production in the six-year post-recession period from 2011 to 2016 averaged about 8.6 million short tons (7.8 million metric tons) per year. On the bright side, the average market value of sand and gravel aggregate sold in Virginia reached a record high in 2016, estimated at just less than $12 per short ton. In the post-recession years 2011 to 2016, the unit price per ton has increased by about 2.4 percent each year. Increasing competition from crushed stone operations that are marketing byproduct or manufactured products that can be substituted for sand and gravel have also had an impact on the demand for traditional sand and gravel products. 



Sand and gravel production

Sand and gravel production and value in Virginia

Selected References:

Gilmer, A. K., Enomoto, C. B., Lovett, J. A., and Spears, D. B., 2005, Mineral and fossil fuel production in Virginia (1999-2003): Virginia Division of Mineral Resources Open-File Report 05-04, 77 p.

National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association

Sweet, P. C., 1978, Sand and gravel resources in Virginia, in Contributions to Virginia geology: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources Publication 7, p. 67-74.

Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, 1993, Geologic Map of Virginia: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, scale 1:500,000.

Wentworth, C. K., 1930, Sand and Gravel Resources of the Coastal Plain of Virginia: Virginia Division Mineral Resources Bulletin 32, p. 1-146.

Willett, J.C., 2017, Sand and Gravel (Construction): U.S. Geological Survey Mineral Commodity Summaries 2017, p. 142-143.