Wisconsin DNR Facing Permit, Research Questions

According to WSAU radio in Wisconsin, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has continued to let new frac-sand mines open, even though the agency’s environmental regulations expired nine months ago.

The Wisconsin State Journal said more than 200 non-metallic silica sand mines were approved under a now-expired 2009 permit. DNR administrator Russ Rasmussen said the permit was designed to avoid pollution from gravel pits, not the sprawling mines that make hundreds of rail shipments of silica sand each day to oil-and-gas drillers. As a result, the State Journal said clay, sand, and chemicals have spilled into some of Wisconsin’s cleanest trout streams as operators failed to keep heavy rains from washing away sand piles.

Rasmussen said the DNR was not able to add stronger environmental protections to its current rules, so he recently ordered a separate sand-mining permit. He could not say whether the state or the sand-mining firms face new liability, but the agency’s legal division is looking into that.

Deb Dix, who oversees frac-sand mining for the DNR, could not say how many mines opened since the permit system expired. The Midwest Environmental Advocates says at least four such approvals have been made.

According to The Chippewa Herald, a resolution asking the state to fund a scientific study of sand mines by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will be considered by the Chippewa County Executive Committee next month.

If the committee gives its approval at its Jan. 6, 2015, meeting, the resolution would go before the full County Board Jan. 13. Town of Howard, Wis., resident Ken Schmitt asked the committee for support of the Citizens Petition for a Strategic Analysis for Frac Sand Mining. Schmitt, a vocal critic of the sand mine industry, spoke before the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board in October about the petition.

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