Summary of Recent Frac Sand Forum in Wisconsin

December 21, 2012

The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, recently presented a three-part forum entitled Fracking: The Wisconsin Connection. The series sought to educate the community and students about the social, economic and environmental issues arising from frac sand mining and processing in western and central Wisconsin.

The first forum in the series included presentations on fossil fuel extraction, including an explanation of lateral drilling and fracking for shale gas, and an overview of Wisconsin’s geologic history explaining why Wisconsin has a unique and widespread sand resource well-suited for fracking. The second forum outlined the extent of permitted and operational frac sand mines, potential public health and perceived economic and social inequities attributed by some community members to frac sand operations, and groundwater use associated with sand processing. The President of Wisconsin Industrial Sand Developers emphasized the benefits of the frac sand industry, while several presenters recognized the undocumented potential for environmental harm to air and water. The final forum explained the increased use of natural gas in the U.S. for power production in recent years, due to low prices, at the expense of coal, nuclear, and renewable energy sources. Speakers emphasized the cheap, clean, and reliable nature of natural gas as a net win in the short-and mid-term in limiting CO2 emissions.

Based on news coverage across the state in general, and overflow attendance at this forum in particular, it is apparent that frac sand is of great interest and will remain a focus for many industries, local governments, citizens, and interest groups for the foreseeable future. Local governments have employed tools such as zoning ordinances, police power ordinances, and road agreements to regulate aspects of the frac sand operations. Legal and political approaches to this rapid-growth industry are constantly developing.

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