August 20, 2012
By David Giffey
Grains of Wisconsin’s ancient silica sand are likely to become a “resource curse” as huge petroleum corporations continue to expand the sand rush in our state for use in toxic natural gas drilling operations in other states.
Marketability and job creation will be cited as reasons to mine and process evermore of Wisconsin’s silica sand, prized for its use in the fracking process wherein unnamed chemicals are pumped deep into bedrock to gain access to fossil fuels. It’s a multi-headed monster.
An August 19 WisconsinWatch.org story headlined, “Frac sand boom creates thousands of jobs” projected that 2,780 jobs might result "when existing mines and those being built are fully operational." An accompanying map located dozens of frac sand mines and processing sites, mostly in west central Wisconsin.
An upshot, among many, of the sand rush is increased pressure on town and county governments to permit new non-metallic substance mines across enormous tracts of land. Some cover 500 acres or more, and communities are ill-prepared to deal with regulating them, or the short-term and long-term air and water pollution that will follow, or mine reclamation once their usefulness ends, or the damage to rural roads caused by thousands of trucks hauling sand to rail connections.
Opposition to the frac sand mines has sprung up, but the corporate special interests and their allies have a lot of money and power. The WisconsinWatch.org story quoted a Wisconsin Department of Transportation engineer’s disclaimer: “People ask me, ‘Do you think frac sand mining is a good thing?’ That’s not our job.”
The potential frac sand scourge in Wisconsin is only half the story. This high-quality quartz sand is destined for use in states from the Rocky Mountains region to the Northeast’s Macellus Shale deposit in hydraulic fracturing. There, our sand will be mixed into a toxic cocktail with undisclosed chemicals and millions of gallons of water, and forced under extreme pressure into drilled holes reaching thousands of feet vertically and more thousands of feet horizontally into the earth.
The fracking fluid “is laced with toxic chemicals that have not been fully tested or disclosed to the public,” says earthjustice.org, and “may be released into the environment through inadequate waste disposal, leaks, spills, and other accidents, presenting serious risks to public health and the environment.” (See the film Gasland by Josh Fox.)
In Wisconsin, the stagnant economy is already being used as an excuse to deregulate environmental standards. Amazingly, the only Department of Natural Resources permit which requires a public hearing before issuance is a permit about air emissions. All other decisions can be made behind closed doors.
“Resource curse” is a term used to describe the net losses endured in places across the globe where nature offers something – such as Wisconsin’s silica sand - that appeals to profiteers. Of course jobs are needed. What about jobs created by high-speed rail systems or wind farms or countless other green energy systems?
Along with advancing the use of sustainable energy sources, a moratorium on frac sand mining in Wisconsin is a logical starting point. Taxing it is a no-brainer. Outright prohibition? Best of all.
On September 15, Fighting Bob Fest at the Alliant Center, Madison, a breakout session on open pit strip mining will be part of the program, and author Bill McKibben will bring his climate change expertise to bear on an array of subjects about sustainability. Spread the word.
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Didn't you know? Rape of the planet is "legitimate rape." Ask Shell, Mobile, Exxon, Cargill, Monsanto, etc. They will tell you.
-Griebnotz Doerkpfester | (Glad) I Escaped, WI. | August 20, 2012
I assume there will not be any heat, lights or air during bob fest and everyone will arive by walking or bike.
-Mark | Slinger WI | August 20, 2012
My brain was really taxed on reading that taxing fracking sand mining is a no-brainer. After all, is it not government policy that land and natural resources be taxed minimally or not at all? A case in point is the 1872 Mining Law that gives minerals away on federal lands.
So I can certainly empathize with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation engineer in not wishing to judge the merits of the fracking sand mining. After all, as an engineer, he is forced to design transportation systems for free riders. Free riders who will kill Iraqis or Iranians for oil-- or even worse-- vote Republican or Democrat so as to make a mockery of the free market and avoid paying the cost of the oil obtained by the fracking sand.
-Ernest Martinson | Hayward WI | August 20, 2012
Great article, David! A wonderful guest to have at Fighting Bob Fest would be Patricia Popple of the Eau Claire- Chippewa Falls area. She knows more about this soecific issue than anyone else I have encountered!
-Linda Wyeth | Curtiss, WI | August 21, 2012
Back in December, 2011, the House voted on HR1633, which would bar any new federal regulation of dust "generated by farming and OTHER ACTIVITIES IN RURAL AREAS."
Ryan, and the rest of the Republicans voted yes; Baldwin voted no, to uphold the right to regulate.
Same session, a proposal to preserve the Clean Air Act authority to regulate what HR 1633 defines as "nuisance," or relatively minor, rural dust. A yes vote upheld the federal authority to curb soot discharges by mines in rural areas. Baldwin voted yes; Ryan, et al, voted no, to sidestep federal regulations.
Dust kicked up by farming operations was clearly never the issue....
-Lady of the Lake | Middleton,WI | August 22, 2012