Sand mining temporarily delayed in Eau Claire County
In recent years, throughout western Wisconsin, silica sand mining has become a contested issue. The Eau Claire County Board passed a moratorium on Nov. 16 putting a hold on the development of mines for six months to give researchers time to determine its effects on citizen’s health.
But Kent Syverson, UW-Eau Claire’s chair of the geology department, said he feels further research is unnecessary and that sand mining happening would be the economic boom the Eau Claire County needs.
However, it will come with sacrifices.
“You don’t get something for nothing,” Syverson said. “The scenery will be marred. You’re going to have many trucks on the road. You will have road degradation … but all of those things are what I would call manageable problems.”
Mining would mean a big change in terms of scenery, noise and traffic, he said. The mining would also destroy the landscape by stripping it of the natural environment, causing traffic and unpleasant sights to those living near where the mining would occur, but Syverson said people need to look past these issues.
But why is sand mined?
Syverson said silica sand being mined is used for hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — which is the process of extracting natural gas and oil from the sand. The fracturing will not be occurring in Eau Claire, only the mining of the sand, he said.
He also said Eau Claire County sand is perfect for mining because of its strength and spherical shape. The sand is located on the surface of the land, not buried beneath rocks, making extraction more convenient, he said.
However, Ben Ponkratz, director of the Student Office of Sustainability, said community members should become more concerned about the environmental impacts and not think along the lines of “out of sight, out of mind.”
“The damages are down the road and the affects to health are invisible,” Ponkratz said. “Hopefully the immediate affects mining will have on the environment will hopefully rile people up.”
Dr. Crispin Pierce, professor of environmental public health, said the moratorium is beneficial and gives counties more time for research to further understand not only the environmental effects, but also human health effects.
Pierce, along with other people and students, is currently conducting research to determine the effects that silica sand will have on citizens’ health.
“There are a lot of people concerned about this and there is a lot of money, potential benefits and detriments,” Pierce said. “The part we can do is do some actually measurements and explain the toxicology and how this stuff could cause problems and then measure it.”
Silica sand is known to release dust when broken or fractured that causes silicosis and lung cancer if too much comes in contact with lungs, Pierce said. The concern for the effects of silica is for citizens indirectly affected by the silica dust, he said, not the workers of the mines because they are already protected and cared for by the government.
Pierce also said that currently they have not monitored or detected any high or dangerous levels of silica escaping the mines or processing plants, but they plan to continue their research until May, when the moratorium is due to expire. Even after, he said, they would continue to monitor the levels of silica for the public knowledge.
Syverson said the moratorium has people worried that sand mining companies are going to look elsewhere for sand and this should worry taxpayers in
Eau Claire County.
The support Syverson has for sand mining in Eau Claire County stems from his belief that regardless of what is used to stimulate Eau Claire County’s economy, there will be detrimental effects to the environment so that should not be a reasoning against sand mining.
Nonetheless, Ponkratz said that if the companies are serious about the money they have invested, they more than likely wouldn’t leave the Eau Claire area for good.