Forum discusses the effects of frac sand mining in Wisconsin

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Several organizations hosted a forum Thursday at The Plaza Hotel in Eau Claire to discuss the effects of frac sand mining in western Wisconsin.

According to the latest numbers available from the Department of Natural Resources, there are 84 active industrial sand facilities in Wisconsin.

Sand is a critical element in the hydraulic fracturing process, known as fracking, as it's pushed down the oil and gas wells to hold open the cracks in the rock created by the process.

Areas like Wisconsin are preferred by the industry because of its high grade sand.

"Everything we're doing is educational in nature. We're hoping people will learn from what they have to say and take it back to their locations and use it," said organizer Patricia Popple with Save the Hills Alliance, Inc.

The forum featured three presenters, including FracTracker Alliance Executive Director Brook Lenker.

Lenker discussed the environmental and public health risks he says are associated with sand mining, such as air pollution, water concerns, and overall quality of life.

"I certainly can understand why somebody would allow these activities on their property if it helps them pay their bills, but at the same time there are a lot of negative consequences that aren't always discussed," said Brook Lenker with FracTracker Alliance.

The organizers of the forum said the hills in western Wisconsin supply 75 percent of the country's frac sand market. Speaker Ted Auch has spent about two and a half years studying the effect of sand mining on the area's landscape.

"What we're trying to figure out is what is the value of the soils, plants, wildlife that's being displaced by sand mining. There's a value we need to put on these parcels of land that even if you are pro sand mining we need to incorporate those numbers into agreements," said Great Lakes Program Coordinator Ted Auch.

Organizers said the goal of the forum is to inform. Then it's up to communities and individuals to decide if frac sand mining is worth it.