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Wisconsin and fracking

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In 2009, a sand rush started in Wisconsin, to provide the silica particles used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Much of Wisconsin's sand is considered the ideal shape and strength by the oil and gas industry, and the state's geologic profile has made it more accessible than in other parts of the country.[1]

According to The Capital Times, frac sand is a $1 billion industry in Wisconsin, and the state's frac sand is used in oil and gas operations across the globe.[2] Mining firms can get $50[3] to $200 a ton for the sand.[4]

Introduction

Sandland

According to PR Watch, sand mining corporations have expanded operations in Wisconsin, "taking advantage of the lax regulations of non-metallic mining in the state ... Wisconsin communities have been caught off-guard as corporations have swooped in to set up shop and begin extracting and processing the sand, without very much oversight to protect the health of neighbors or to protect the natural environment ... Regions of Wisconsin and Minnesota where frac sand mining have already started have seen complaints about air quality, water degradation, and the destruction of the natural landscape."[5]

History

Ming for frac sand in Wisconsin took off in 2009. In May 2012 E&E reported 60 frac sand mines operating in Wisconsin,[6] with PR Watch reporting about 40 more attempting to gain permits.[7]

In July 2012 E&E said Wisconsin had doubled its frac sand industry since 2011, with 87 mines operating or under construction, and another 20 in the proposal stage.[8]

It was reported in October 2013 that Wisconsin’s sand-mining boom could help fuel fracking abroad, noting that the sand used in fracking is found in great quantities in the state.[9]

Citizen activism

Much of the state is unzoned and sand mining companies can therefore negotiate directly with property owners on licenses, at terms later seen by many residents as unfavorable to them economically and carrying unknown environmental and health risks.[10]

In December 2011 Wisconsin’s Farmers’ Union and its Towns Association organized a day-long conference to help people deal more effectively with the sand mining industry. According to TomDispatch: "[T]owns, alarmed by the explosion of frac-sand mining, were beginning to pass licensing ordinances to regulate the industry. In Wisconsin, counties can challenge zoning but not licensing ordinances, which fall under town police powers. These, according to Wisconsin law, cannot be overruled by counties or the state. Becky Glass, a Prairie Farm resident and an organizer with Labor Network for Sustainability, calls Wisconsin’s town police powers 'the strongest tools towns have to fight or regulate frac-sand mining.'"[10]

In April 2012, the town of Prairie Farm voted 2 to 1 to pass an ordinance to regulate any future mining effort in the town. Mining company Procore of multinational oil and gas corporation Sanjel pulled out the area because of the resistance, but has since returned with different personnel to try opening new mines in the area.[10]

Regulations

The state Department of Natural Resources issues permits for wastewater and stormwater disposals, but there are no regulations regarding air pollution from the dust drifting off sand trains heading to oil and gas fields. According to the Baltimore Examiner, sand mining companies seem to be targeting townships and unincorporated communities because they lack zoning rules that could contain sand mines.[11]

In 2011, some Wisconsin residents filed petitions with the state government to impose new air standards in response to concerns about increased silica dust emissions. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources rejected the petition, saying that existing state regulations addressed the residents' health concerns. But regulators said in a 2011 report that a lack of data on emissions has stymied a conclusive finding on the health effects of sand mining.[12]

Reclamation

When companies apply to counties for mining permits, including sand, they must file “reclamation” plans. But there are reports that lands inevitable lose much of their biodiversity and fertility.[13]

Legislative issues

In March 2012, the Wisconsin state Senate considered legislation (SB 504) aimed at "limiting the authority" of Wisconsin cities, villages or towns to enact a "development moratorium ordinance" -- a mechanism used by several local governments across the state to delay mining until they can investigate the effects on their community. A moratorium gives citizens and local elected officials time to discuss adopting ordinances, like zoning or licensing, but cannot be used to permanently or indefinitely delay the creation or expansion of a frac sand mining operation.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association and the Wisconsin Builder’s Association are reportedly been behind the push for the passage of the bill, to prevent what they consider unnecessary moratoriums in the state. Dane County, the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and the Wisconsin Farmer's Union have lobbied against the bill.

The bill sets several hurdles for local governments in enacting a moratorium, including obtaining a written report from a certified engineer or health professional which would "prove" that a moratorium is "essential" in addressing public infrastructure or safety concerns. Sen. and ALEC member Frank Lasee (R-DePere) introduced the bill.[14]

Environmental and health issues

Sand dust created from hydraulic fracturing has been found to be a threat to health. About four out of five air samples from well sites in five states from 2010 to 2011 exceeded recommended limits for silica particles, according to industrial hygienist Eric Esswein at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The particles in sand dust created during fracking can lodge in the lungs and cause potentially fatal silicosis, and “there’s really no inherent protection” at well sites, according to Esswein.[15]

Citizen groups

Industry groups

Companies

Reports

Resources

References

  1. Sara Jerving, "Wisconsin Legislation May Strip Towns of Authority to Stop Fracking," PR Watch, March 14, 2012.
  2. Mike Ivey, "Wisconsin at 'global epicenter' of frac sand mining industry," The Capital Times, Oct 10, 2013.
  3. "MINING: Fracking fuels sand boom in the Midwest," E&E, May 15, 2012.
  4. Doug Hissom, "Sand mining coming to a town near you," Post-Examiner, May 13, 2012.
  5. Sara Jerving, "Wisconsin Legislation May Strip Towns of Authority to Stop Fracking," PR Watch, March 14, 2012.
  6. "MINING: Fracking fuels sand boom in the Midwest," E&E, May 15, 2012.
  7. Sara Jerving, "Wisconsin Legislation May Strip Towns of Authority to Stop Fracking," PR Watch, March 14, 2012.
  8. ["Wis. doubles size of its frac sand industry,"] E&E Publishing, July 25, 2012.
  9. "Wisconsin’s sand-mining boom could fuel fracking abroad" John Upton, Grist, October 14, 2013.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Ellen Cantarow, "Tomgram: Ellen Cantarow, The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America," TomDispatch, May 20, 2012.
  11. Doug Hissom, "Sand mining coming to a town near you," Post-Examiner, May 13, 2012.
  12. "MINING: Fracking fuels sand boom in the Midwest," E&E, May 15, 2012.
  13. Ellen Cantarow, "Tomgram: Ellen Cantarow, The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America," TomDispatch, May 20, 2012.
  14. Sara Jerving, "Wisconsin Legislation May Strip Towns of Authority to Stop Fracking," PR Watch, March 14, 2012.
  15. Alex Wayne, "Fracking Sand Threatens Gas Well Workers, Researcher Says," Bloomberg, April 30, 2012.

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