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Company seeks sand mine permit in Jackson County; public has until July 24 to comment

Company seeks sand mine permit in Jackson County; public has until July 24 to comment

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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is seeking public comments regarding the construction of a sand mine in Jackson County.

The DNR has already given preliminary approval to Smart Sand Inc., which is proposing to build its facility in the town of Curran.

The 959-acre site, about two miles southwest of the village of Hixton, is surrounded by “open land with various vegetation, farmland and the Trempealeau River,” according to Smart Sand’s permit application.

Smart Sand produces sand used for an oil and gas extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

During fracking, sand is injected into rock formations at high pressure to prop open fractures in the shale layers from which oil and natural gas are released. The more uniform the sand grains used during fracking, the better the frac sand. Northern white sand from Wisconsin is particularly prized.

Smart Sand already has an Oakdale facility that has 317 million metric tons of sand in reserve, according to a 2019 SEC filing. The new Hixton site adds 100 million metric tons of sand in reserve. North American demand for frac sand fell in 2016, but has picked up again, though northern white sand faces competition from the glut of sand mined closer to the Texan shale plays.

At the Hixton facility, sand will be mined and processed on site, according to Smart Sand’s application. Processing steps include washing, drying and separating grains of sand by their size. The facility also plans to store sand on site until it can be loaded onto rail cars for shipment.

The site has the capacity to process 400 tons of sand per hour. Smart Sand didn’t state how much sand it plans to process in a year, Beth Perk, DNR air management engineer, said in an email.

Because the sand mining and processing operations could emit air pollutants above federal limits, Smart Sand is also required to reduce air emissions in its permit.

The main pollutants of concern are fine and coarse particulate matter, Perk said.

Dryers that run on natural gas and propane produce most of the emissions, either particulate matter or combustion byproducts that react to form ozone.

Exposure to particulate matter — microscopic specks of air pollution that include dust, soot and smoke — can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke and premature death. Ozone pollution, a type of smog, exacerbates respiratory issues, including asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Smart Sand would have to add a baghouse, a type of pollution control, to its process to keep emissions below the threshold of 100 tons per year for particulate matter. If that threshold is exceeded, facilities are required to obtain a stricter permit that requires more rigorous and frequent monitoring, Perk said.

The public has until July 24 to comment.

Jennifer Lu is the La Crosse Tribune environmental reporter. You can reach her by phone at 608-791-8217 and by email jennifer.lu@lee.net.

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