Fracking Sand Mining

In this Dec. 15, 2011 photo, frac sand destined for the oil and gas fields piles up at the EOG Resources Inc. processing plant in Chippewa Falls, Wis. Largely overlooked in the national debate over fracking is the emerging fight in the U.S. heartland over mining frac sand, which has grains of ideal size, shape, strength and purity. Mining companies say the work provides good jobs in rural areas, but some residents fear the increase in mining could harm human health and the environment.

Calling silica sand a direct and indirect threat to health, community and the environment, representatives from more than a dozen organizations called for a ban on frac sand mining Monday, the eve of an industry conference in La Crosse.

“Frac sand is a dangerous business on many levels,” said Pat Wilson, chairman of the Coulee Region Sierra Club chapter.

The fine-grained silica sands prevalent across western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota have long been mined for industrial use, but recent advances in a gas and oil drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing created enormous demand for the sand, which is used to open cracks in underground rocks.

According to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources records, there are now 129 mines and processing facilities in the state; there are at least nine in Minnesota, according to that state’s DNR.

In the past year, however, falling oil prices have led North Dakota drillers to idle wells, and the demand for sand has plummeted, idling many of those mines.

An industry trade magazine is hosting a two-day conference at the La Crosse Center as the industry awaits an economic rebound, but opponents are not waiting idle, planning a rally at 5 p.m. outside the conference hall.

“We think the frac sand industry is destroying the Midwest,” said Ken Tschumper, a member of the Houston County (Minn.) Protectors and an organizer of Monday’s news conference. “We’re going to fight the frac sand industry every step of the way. We’re no longer going to accept regulation.”

Representatives of Minnesota’s Land Stewardship Project cited their 2014 report that found half of the frac sand companies operating in Wisconsin “violated DNR regulations, manipulated local governments, or engage in influence peddling and conflicts of interest.”

“We know regulations do not work in practice,” Winona County resident Lynnea Pfohl said.

Eighteen organizations — ranging from local anti-mining groups to the Ho-Chunk Nation — have formed an alliance supporting silica mining bans at the local and state level across the Driftless region.

The arguments focused on both local and global impacts: the mining and processing affects local land, water and air — and bitterly divides communities; the fracking process has been linked to groundwater contamination as well as earthquakes; and burning the hard-to-reach natural gas and oil reserves releases greenhouse gasses.

“Frac sand mining is aiding and abetting the fossil fuel industry in making our planet unlivable,” said Kathy Allen of the Coulee Region Climate Alliance.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends that to limit global temperature increase to 2 degrees by mid-century, about three quarters of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground.

“So should frac sand,” Allen said.

Others at Monday’s event focused on spiritual concerns.

Carlene Roberts of First Congregational Church cited Biblical exhortations to care for the earth.

“Frac sand mining is in direct conflict with these verses, on all levels,” she said.

David Greendeer, who represents the 11-county District II of the Ho-Chunk Nation, quoted a saying of his grandfather’s.

“When God created the earth, he created everything before he created the human being,” Greendeer said. “So our job as human beings is to take care of the earth.”

“Frac sand mining is aiding and abetting the fossil fuel industry in making our planet unlivable.” Kathy Allen, Coulee Region Climate Alliance


Rhymes with Lubbock. La Crosse Tribune reporter and data geek. Covers energy, transportation and the environment, among other things. Call him at 608-791-8217.

Load comments