By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF HOWARD, CHIPPEWA COUNTY — An October 10 deadline has been set for signatures on a petition to the state’s Natural Resources Board asking that the DNR do a strategic study of the impacts of frac sand mining.
Representatives of Midwest Environmental Advocates held a meeting at the Howard Town Hall September 18 to distribute information about the petition.
About 60 people attended the meeting.
The 29-page document, “Petition for a Strategic Analysis of Frac Sand Mining,” contains a wealth of technical references and citations and argues that the state Department of Natural Resources must gather and use scientific information to adequately regulate the frac sand industry to protect the health, safety and welfare of Wisconsin residents.
Sarah Williams, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates, said she has heard many stories about the problems with frac sand mining that impact people’s daily lives: dust on and in houses and cars; muddy water; contaminated wells; increased truck and train traffic; declining property values.
“There has not been a careful analysis of the impacts (of frac sand mining),” Williams said.
The DNR must gather more information about the impact of frac sand mining for the agency’s own regulations and as a resource for local government officials and the state legislature, she said.
The petition is asking the NRB to direct the DNR to do the study “to ask for the sound science” needed to make good decisions, Williams said.
Williams said that concerned citizens in West Central Wisconsin should get copies of the petition and gather as many signatures as possible by October 10.
If Midwest Environmental Advocates has the signatures by October 10, then MEA can ask to be put on the Natural Resources Board’s agenda for the end of October or in November, she said.
There is no target goal for the number of signatures, Williams noted.
As of the evening of September 18, about 250 signatures had been gathered so far, Williams said.
People also should write down their own stories about how frac sand mining has impacted them, she said.
“People’s stories are compelling, and we think the stories will be compelling to (the Natural Resources Board),” Williams said.
“This is not a partisan effort,” said Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates.
Either political party in the state “can do bad things” that impact the health, safety and welfare of Wisconsin’s residents, she said.
“Science should be the basis of our decisions,” Wright said.
Over the last two years, political contributions from frac sand companies have increased by 1,200 percent, Wright said.
“There are good men and women in the DNR who are not allowed to do their jobs … (but) the DNR is run by the governor’s office,” she said.
Although the DNR has good staff members and good scientists, “the DNR is not always the best at protecting people,” Williams said.
“There are people who want to do their jobs, but they get over-ridden,” Wright said.
18 Mile Creek
Mark Berge of Colfax said he had talked to several biologists and fishery staff at the DNR about the colloidal clay pollution in 18 Mile Creek from the EOG Resources frac sand mine in Cooks Valley.
“They are concerned,” he said.
“And we are trying to help them do their jobs,” Wright said.
Berge said he had told one of the biologists about the meeting for the NRB petition in the Town of Howard.
“He said, ‘that’s great. That’s what gets things done (when there is) citizen involvement,’” Berge said.
Since September 5, 18 Mile Creek through Colfax has been filled with colloidal clay run-off from the DS mine in the Town of Cooks Valley.
18 Mile Creek has been a trout stream since it was restored in 1998, said John Lancour, a Town of Howard resident.
“Trout need sand to reproduce, not clay,” he said.
Streams, ponds, marshes, the groundwater, the environment are all being impacted by frac sand mining, Lancour said.
“It’s our choice to band together as a community. I hope we all get our heads out of the sand … we need to know what the impact is going to be,” he said, adding that he wondered why “money and greed is more important than our neighbors.”
Government is there to balance the interests of all people, “and that’s not happening,” Wright said.
The petition to the NRB is a way to say, “we need more information,” she said.
According to the petition, metallic and non-metallic mining can cause acid mine drainage by exposing large surface areas of sulfide rock to air and water.
One particular sandstone formation in this area, Tunnel City, is between the desired Jordan and Wonewoc formations of frac sand and “contains a significant amount of sulfide mineralization.”
If the Tunnel City sand is what is left over and is used in the reclamation process, “this could raise the potential for acid mine drainage to continue after reclamation,” the petition states.
“Roman mine sites in Great Britain continue to generate acid drainage 2,000 years later,” according to the petition.
One woman in the audience wondered about environmental impact statements for proposed frac sand mines.
Could the townships require an environmental assessment or an impact statement in their mine licensing ordinances? she asked.
The permits that are available to the DNR to issue for frac sand mining do not trigger environmental assessments, Wright said.
The individual sand mines are not large enough, under current state law, to require environmental assessments, she said.
If the DNR conducted a strategic analysis of frac sand mining in Wisconsin, the analysis would provide environmental impact information for the frac sand industry, Williams and Wright said.
One gentleman in the audience mentioned the DNR’s refusal several years ago to set a limit for respirable crystalline silica after receiving a petition signed by health care professionals in West Central Wisconsin and residents living near frac sand mines.
The state legislature has not been doing its job for the last 30 years regarding the environment and the health, safety and welfare of state residents, said Ron Koshoshek, who formerly chaired the citizens’ advisory board for the public intervenor’s office and was the lead negotiator for the Town of Howard’s mining agreement with EOG Resources.
State law says that the DNR cannot add crystalline silica to the list of hazardous air pollutants to be regulated unless the DNR studies the entire list of possible pollutants, Koshoshek said.
Studying the entire list would be cost prohibitive for adding crystalline silica to the list, he said.
The 29-page petition is available for download at the Midwest Environmental Advocates website at www.midwestadvocates.org.
Anyone who is interested also can download petition signature forms or can sign the petition online at MEA’s website.
People can submit their stories on the website, too, about the impact of frac sand mining on their daily lives.
Click on the link at the top of the page, “Citizens Need to Know the True Cost of Sand.”
For additional information, you can call Midwest Environmental Advocates at (608) 251-5047 or by e-mail: email@example.com.