The Nelson Institute sponsored a forum presenting the facts and potential consequences of the fracking industry, a market currently experiencing an economic boom in Wisconsin.
Reporter for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Kate Prengaman said frac sand is the same as other types of sand, the only difference being that it is sold to various industries for profit.
Prengaman said mining sand has been a common practice in Wisconsin since the origin of mining in general, but recently the increased demand for this frac sand has caused sand mines to become bigger and more expansive projects.
“Increased demand from oil and gas industries is really what made frac sand a newsworthy story in Wisconsin,” Prengaman said. “Sand mining is not new to Wisconsin, but what is new is the scale of and scope of the operations.”
Prengaman added she has witnessed the conflicting opinions of communities located near sand mines through her profession in journalism, as some communities have welcomed the mining companies while others have put a moratorium on the subject, which Prengaman attributes to a lack of knowledge.
Rich Budinger, president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, said the sand mining industry is highly regulated to protect air, water and overall environmental quality in the mining processes.
Budinger added the frac sand mining has positive benefits on the economy by adding thousands of jobs to rural areas of Wisconsin.
“Everything involved in the mining process creates jobs,” Budinger said. “It’s not just the jobs on site, but the jobs of suppliers and transportation. … It also has a direct impact through the salaries the new employees will make and spend locally.”
Budinger said concern about landscape destruction and overuse of water in sand mining processes is misplaced because there are high standards in place for reclamation of the surface land after the mining is completed in an area, as well as regulations requiring the water used in the sand mining to be recycled for future use.
However, according to Thomas Pearson, assistant professor in the social science department at University of Wisconsin-Stout, many grassroots organizations have formed in Wisconsin to express concerns about the recent boom in the sand mining industry.
He added a major concern of these organizations is the potential destruction of treasured landscape imagery and the costs this destruction would have on the local community.
“A lot of discussion and debate in Wisconsin revolves around how we as a community determines who has the right to transform the physical landscape and benefit from it while at the same time creating a cost others in the community may have to deal with,” Pearson said.
Pearson said these organizations have expressed frustration in the lack of open community discussion surrounding the question.
Pearson added community members in these grassroots organization are also concerned with the coercive methods used by sand mining companies to convince community members to allow a sand mine to be developed in their local area.
“Some complained that companies were offering money in exchange for public promotion of the frac sand mining development in their area,” Pearson said. “[Some community members] are worried about the effect this is having on open democratic discussion and the ability of a local community to have democratic control over their local area.”