Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, which has issued more frac sand mining permits than any other county in Minnesota or Wisconsin over the past three years, voted on Monday for a moratorium on new or expanded sand mining while the county considers the health effects on citizens.
The county board voted overwhelmingly in favor of a moratorium of up to a year on permitting new sand facilities or allowing existing sites to expand, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Proponents of the plan argued it would allow time to evaluate whether sand mining has adverse health effects. The county has approved 26 companies mining and processing silica sand on a total of 4,733 acres, according to the Star Tribune. County officials say there is strong interest in starting new mining operations. Kevin Lien, director of Trempealeau’s Environment and Land Use Committee said, “Right now the public has questions that we can’t answer.”
“Frac sand” is a crush-resistant material produced for use by the petroleum industry. In hydraulic fracturing – fracking – pressurized water and chemicals are pumped into the shale to fracture the rock and release reserves of oil or natural gas. When the pumps are turned off, the fractures are propped open by billions of grains of frac sand, allowing the fluids to flow out of the rock and into the well.
Fracking itself is controversial because of the risks of air and water pollution at the drilling sites and nearby, possible contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, and surface contamination from spills and flow-back.
The Trempealeau County board created a committee to collect information and report on whether sand mining adversely affects water and air, the stability of communities, or otherwise adversely affects the health and safety of county residents, according to the Start Tribune. Sherry Rhoda, Trempealeau’s health director, said the committee would not “be confined to one issue,” according to the Star Tribune. “It’s for anything health and safety and for all people, including tourists.”