It’s hard not to notice how silica sand is big business in our state—especially of late, with the push on to add a 2000 acre sand mine to the nearby town of Howard.
You would think that while seeking to expand, sand and development companies would be on their best behavior. But there have been several incidents which point to carelessness and poor procedure. One example is the drilling of bore holes. These holes are upward of 30 feet deep and six inches across. Though required by law to fill the holes with specially prescribed material once a sample is taken, some of the holes have been left unfilled. This creates a safety hazard for people and cattle walking by. It also leaves an unprotected opening to our ground water supply. At a Town of Howard meeting the other night, we heard from a resident who found an unfilled bore hole on her land—evidence of drilling she’d never agreed to (apparently an “accident”).
Also troubling is something many of us have seen with our own eyes: the clouding and discoloration of 18 Mile Creek. As noted in this paper, the discoloration started after heavy rainfall on September 3rd caused water to overflow retention ponds at EOG’s mine in Cooks Valley. The ponds weren’t draining properly because they were clogged with clay. It’s been over two weeks now, and the water still doesn’t look like it did before. Similar incidents are happening all over the state, even when companies comply with DNR requirements; unfortunately, the DNR’s permit concerning storm water runoff was not designed for large-scale frac sand mines.
More study—serious science—needs to be done, so we can figure out how best to develop permits and procedures for these mines. Unfortunately, the DNR is no longer the independent conservation-minded entity it used to be. The DNR has been politicized and neutered. It now reports to Governor Scott Walker, and on August 27th he amended Wisconsin’s Environmental Policy Act, making it HARDER (but not impossible) for citizens to petition the government for an environmental analysis.
What can we do? We can make our concerns public and start putting pressure on our legislators to take this issue seriously and notice that we are paying attention. We can find out how our various representatives stand on this issue and vote accordingly in November. And we can also sign a petition asking the DNR to conduct a strategic analysis of frac sand mining. You can find this petition on-line at midwestadvocates.org/truecostofsand.
When elected officials listen to powerful industries rather than people, citizens need to speak up and demand that our health and well-being be protected.