In the last few years there has been a new threat to the bluffs in our area – Frac Sand Mining.
Fracking or Hydraulic fracturing is a technique for extracting natural gas from rocks deep in the earth. It involves injecting a pressurized mixture into the rock formation, including chemicals and sand, which opens channels in the rock and releases the gas.
There’s been a boom in fracking in the U.S. and other countries in recent years. It’s quite controversial because of concerns that it may contaminate the water table, consume large amounts of water, and possibly even cause earthquakes. It also seems to release large amounts of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
In order to do fracking, companies need proppants – materials that prop open the spaces made by the fracturing of the rock. One of the best materials for this is silica sand, and one of the best places they’ve found to mine the sand is the driftless area of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
So, all of a sudden, mining companies are arriving in our sleepy little county – buying up land, paying landowners incredible prices, and quickly getting permits to mine from inexperienced local officals. The state of Wisconsin has washed their hands of the problem – Governor Walker is pushing for easier permits for any kind of mining, and the DNR has said they’re not going to try to regulate the mining.
Frac sand mining is surface mining – and the sand is inside our beautiful bluffs. The companies bring in huge machines, scrape off the top soil, and then dig out the sand underneath. Sometimes the sand is too compacted and needs to be blasted into smaller pieces. The sand is sometimes cleaned on site, and sometimes hauled to a remote processing facility to be cleaned. Then the sand is hauled to a railroad connection where it can be shipped to the fracking site where it will be used.
Below are links to several posts I’ve written about this issue, and the problems it poses for our county.