Although there have been no permit applications for frac-sand mining in Winneshiek County, a group of concerned citizens is keeping watch in case it happens.
The recently formed Winneshiek County Protectors (WCP) hosted an informational meeting on the potential for silica sand to be mined in the county. About 200 people attended the meeting, which was held in the Decorah High School auditorium.
"Fracking," short for hydraulic fracturing, refers to a 75-year-old technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas, and coal seam gas), or other substances for extraction. Fractures are created after a hole is drilled into reservoir rock formations.
Frac sand, or silica, is quartz sand of a certain size and shape that is suspended in fluid and injected into oil and gas wells under high pressure. The fluid pressure opens and enlarges fractures as well as creates new ones. Sand grains are carried into these fractures and prop them open after the fluid is pumped out.
Earlier this month, the Allamakee County Board of supervisors unanimously passed an 18-month frac-sand-mining moratorium.
The action came following an application in October by a Minnesota company to mine Jordan and St. Peter sandstone on Sand Cove near New Albin. The application was later withdrawn.
Since the application, a group of concerned residents formed the Allamakee County Protectors (ACP), a 501 c(3), which has raised more than $8,000 for legal fees to prevent frac-sand mining in the county.
Decorah Attorney Karl Knudson was hired to represent the organization.
Lyle Otte, a member of WCP, moderated the meeting Wednesday evening.
"The main purpose of our meeting is to inform members of the Decorah,Winneshiek County and Allamakee County communities of what the situation is in relation to sand mining in Winneshiek County," said Ottte.
Otte introduced Dr. Laura Peterson, assistant professor of environmental studies and chemistry at Luther College.
Peterson explained the geological history of the area and the deposition of sedimentary rocks. She said the area has not been the recipient of glacial deposits in hundreds of thousands of years.
"We value our landscapes for their aesthetics, but landscapes also serve a purpose. Landscapes aren't just something to look at. The vegetation holds the soil, slows down surface runoff and mitigates flood events," she said.
"It also protects aquatic organizations from siltation."
Not just dust
John Beard of Decorah next presented "Silica sand mining and processing: medical risks/facts and fallacies," compiled by Dr. Wayne Freyeisen of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Beard said hazards of frac sand mining include the inhalation of super fine, microscopic sand particles, which cause the lung disease silicosis.
Beard said while the body has the capacity to deal with some fine dust particles, there are limits.
"If the limit is exceeded, the cell dies and scar tissue happens. Scar tissue limits lung expansion and oxygen exchange," said Beard.
Beard said only six states have standards, dictated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, 79 percent of air samples collected near frac-sand mines exceed the NIOSH standards.
"Even if workers are using half-mask respirators, they would not be protected," said Beard.
Beard added there are no standards in Minnesota or Wisconsin regarding polyacrylamide, a "flocculant" or chemical used in the processing of the mined sand. Under heat, polyacrylamide can break down into acrylamide, a neurotoxin and known carcinogen.
"If it washes quickly through sand into the aquifer, it is toxic," said Beard.
He also mentioned the additional medical risks associated with diesel particulates coming from the sand trucks.
"Diesel is a known carcinogen with known risk for cardiovascular events," said Beard.
Beard also discussed the water-quality risks after mining is complete.
"Sand mines and processing are coming ahead of the regulations," he said.
Just say no
Ric Zarwell, president of the Allamakee County Protectors, outlined a number of reasons Winneshiek County should say "no" to frac-sand mining.
These include no proof of additional job creation, highway damage, a decrease in property values, increased semi traffic, groundwater contamination, increased risk of lunch cancer, diminishing groundwater, loss of outdoor recreation opportunities, loss of habitat for plants and animals, damage to archaeological resources, absence of mine site reclamation or restoration, lost tourism opportunities and cost to local taxpayers.
He added frac-sand mining is a "boom and bust" industry, which enormously benefits out-of-state corporations.
Due to technical difficulties, those in attendance were not able to view the documentary "Frac Sand Land."
The movie has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the basement of the Decorah Public Library.
The WCP has filed incorporation documents and will hold its first organizational meeting Wednesday, March 6, in the Decorah Middle School cafeteria.
For more information about WCP, call Otte at 563-382-3137. For more information about frac sand mining concerns, visit allamakeecountyprotectors.com.