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DNR approves further study of sand mining industry
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ENVIRONMENT | IMPACT TO BE EXAMINED

DNR approves further study of sand mining industry

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The state Department of Natural Resources will begin a strategic analysis of the impact of the sand mining industry in the state in response to a petition brought last fall by an environmental group and a Chippewa County beef farmer.

The Natural Resources Board approved the study Wednesday. The process will involve public input for two months, and board members hope to draft a report on the topic in a year.

The new sand mining study will provide an update to a 2012 DNR report, said David Siebert, director of environmental analysis and sustainability. Such a study is needed because of the tremendous expansion of industrial sand mining in Wisconsin, people with concerns about mining said.

The 2012 report concluded that if the industry continued to grow, further examination would be necessary. A strategic analysis is authorized by state code and is used to examine long-term policy versus reviewing daily actions, Siebert said.

“It collects facts that informs the decisions of policymakers,” he said.

Siebert said he would include ideas from the half-inch-thick stack of printed email messages received since the Midwest Environmental Advocates and Chippewa County farmer Ken Schmitt sought the study last fall. The MEA’s petition included 1,100 signatures gathered in a month, according to the organization.

MEA representatives and Schmitt were not available for comment Wednesday, but in October Schmitt wrote to the DNR Board, stating:

“Prior to 2008, none of us ever imagined our agricultural area would be transformed so much in such a short period of time. We now have far more frac sand mines in our area than existed in the entire state 10 years ago. All of these mines have been permitted without considering their cumulative impacts.”

Crispin Pierce, who heads the environmental public health program at UW-Eau Claire, also urged the DNR to conduct a study. Pierce has taken air samples around sand processing plants that he said show elevated amounts of crystalline silica particulates that could adversely affect human health.

“Given this information about airborne particulate levels, and the many unanswered questions about water usage, truck traffic, increased noise and light and changing economic impacts, I believe the proposed study is warranted,” he wrote the DNR.

The sand being mined is used in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract oil and gas from the ground. That process uses highly pressurized sand and chemicals. Sand from west-central Wisconsin is used because of its shape and durability.

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