Sand mining issue is ripping apart the heartland of this country and there's virtually no mainstream media coverage of it.
Although the mining of silica sand has been going on for many years, the advent of hydro frac drilling for oil and natural gas in recent years has brought on a much greater demand for the silica sand.
The rolling hills and scenic bluffs of western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota hide a valuable resource that has sparked what's been called a modern-day gold rush. The object of desire is not gold but a soft sandstone needed by natural gas, and oil suppliers for hydrofracking.
Nearly three-fourths of frac sand comes from the Midwest. It's shipped by rail hundreds of miles to the oil and gas fields of Texas, Pennsylvania and North Dakota, where drillers mix it with water, and chemicals.
At least 16 frac-sand mines and processing facilities are operating, and an additional 25 sites are proposed, in a diagonal swath stretching across 15 Wisconsin counties from Burnett to Columbia, it has been found. Chippewa County has seen the most action, as Wisconsin Public Radio’s Rich Kremer reported in June 2011. Most of the mining operations have sprung up over the past three years, stirring concerns about the effects on land and groundwater and health impacts on nearby residents.
The concern is not the stuff you can see, but the stuff you cannot see. Activists say frac sand isn't ordinary sand. They fear fine silica dust from the mines and plants will make people sick, spoil the landscape and contaminate ground. Fresh, fine silica dust is a well-documented health risk blamed for lung diseases such as silicosis, cancer and autoimmune diseases, but most published research is about workplace dangers. More information is needed about the risks of frac sand mining. Fresh silica dust has grains with sharp, jagged particles and is more dangerous than the weathered silica found in dirt, although it weathers quickly. Until more is known, it makes sense for Wisconsin and other frac sand states to follow the leads of states like Texas and California in setting environmental silica standards.
Some counties in Minnesota and Wisconsin have responded to health and environmental concerns by passing mining moratoriums to buy time for more study. Others are debating whether to hit the brakes on further mine development. Whew! Good for them!
"It's been described by the mining officials as a gold rush," local activists say. "It's a sand rush. A lot of us are saying 'What's the rush?' The sand is going to be here a year from now."
Um......because mining companies know there were no ordinances in place...no zoning powers. There is a lack of local land-use controls such as zoning that would allow them to manage the land rush. And despite concerns about the health and environmental impacts of such facilities, the state Department of Natural Resources has only a few regulations for sand mining operations. Tsk, tsk! This only leads to abuse, greed, for the nearly “inexhaustible” supply of this type of sand, which can fetch up to $200 a ton.