Local farmer, students present on frac sand mining

Story by Rita Fay, Staff Writer

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A local farmer and former Chippewa County board member talked about the increase in local frac sand mining and the problems that come with it Feb. 21 in the basement of Towers South.

Ken Schmitt’s lecture, titled “Trash Talk: What the Frac,” was presented by Housing and Residence Life.

Schmitt lives in the town of Howard and has been working for almost five years to increase safety regulations for mining companies, a job which has proven to be difficult.

“I can’t count the number of hours I’ve put into this,” Schmitt said.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process which involves shooting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into the ground in order to crack shale formations. The result unlocks oil and natural gas.

The Midwest is ideal for fracking because of the round, hard sand the land produces. In the past four years, mining companies have set up shop in Chippewa County.

Schmitt said Wisconsin has always been a mining state but in the past there have only been a handful of mining plants. Now there are at least 60 industrial sand mines functioning or in the permitting process in the area.

With fracking comes environmental, safety and health concerns. The fracking process destroys land to make room for mining. The companies also use heavy trucks to transport the loads, destroying the roads and the fracking has been shown to cause serious health issues.

Seniors Jeron Jacobson, Zachary Kroening and Kimberly Shermo are all environmental public health majors working with professor of environmental public health Dr. Crispin Pierce on research of air quality near frac sand mines.

Crystalline silica, put into the air due to fracking, is a dusty particulate substance. It has been known to cause health problems including cancer and silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease.

The students tested the air quality and their data show a positive relationship of particulate concentration levels associated with mining operations. When mining is operational, the air quality becomes worse. Their research was also presented on Thursday.

The students say politics play a large part in the fracking discussion. Some people are worried about the dangers of fracking but others can see a positive side to the issue. It creates local jobs, supports the local economy and property tax revenues increase.

Schmitt said their goal started with wanting to keep out all of the mining companies but they quickly realized that wasn’t possible.

“We realized we can’t keep it out, so we decided to limit it to how intrusive it is,” Schmitt said.

The DNR have only a few regulations when it comes to fracking. They may require companies to have permits regulating air emissions and groundwater use.

Shermo said before she declared her major in environmental public health she had no idea what fracking was.

Jacobson also said it isn’t a much-discussed issue.

“I think people know about (fracking), but don’t think about it,” Jacobson said.

The students have only been doing research for two months but they said they have already learned a lot. They think it’s an important issue that is pertinent to our area and applicable to community health issues they learn about in their classes.

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