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DNR recommends study of industrial frac sand mining

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  The state Department of Natural Resources has recommended moving forward with a detailed study of industrial frac sand mining to determine the impact of mining on human health and on the environment.

The DNR made the recommendation on January 12 as the result of a petition signed by more than 1,000 West Central Wisconsin residents submitted to the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board last fall.

Midwest Environmental Advocates drafted the 29-page document, “Petition for a Strategic Analysis of Frac Sand Mining,” which contains a number 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.

Representatives of MEA presented the petition in September to a group of about 60 people who gathered at the Howard Town Hall.

The Natural Resources Board asked DNR staff to respond to the petition in October.

Five years ago, a handful of frac sand mines were operating in this area of the state, but the number has now increased to over one hundred sand mines and may be closer to 150.

One company is proposing to develop a 2,000 acre sand mine in the Town of Howard, and another 800 acres is reportedly under contract, or is under consideration for contract, in the Town of Colfax, according to information given to the Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development committee at the committee’s January 13 meeting.

The Natural Resources Board will be meeting January 23 to further consider the proposal to do a strategic analysis of frac sand mining.

The Chippewa County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution at the January 13 meeting to support the strategic analysis of frac sand mining.

The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development committee approved at their January 13 meeting forwarding a similar resolution to the Dunn County Board for consideration at the county board’s meeting January 21.

According to the petition asking for a strategic analysis of sand mining, metallic and non-metallic mining can cause acid mine drainage by exposing large surface areas of sulfide rock to air and water.

The petition states that Roman mine sites in Great Britain continue to generate acid drainage 2,000 years later.

“This is an important step forward for our state’s environmental protection agency to provide a comprehensive study of the frac sand industry so that citizens can have an in-depth look at the facts on silica sand mining and our environmental protection needs,” said MEA Executive Director Kimberlee Wright in a news release issued about the DNR’s recommendation.

Midwest Environmental Advocates is urging residents in this part of the state to send comments to the Natural Resources Board thanking the DNR for responding to the citizen petition and for recommending that the DNR do a strategic analysis of sand mining.

Comments can be e-mailed to Laurie.Ross@wisconsin.gov by 11 a.m. January 23 to be included in the report for the Natural Resources Board meeting.