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Environmental Group: Bad Data in DNR Frac Sand Dust Report

Wisconsin environmentalists don't trust a draft report that says fine sand generated by the frac sand industry isn't harmful to health. (Sierra Club)
Wisconsin environmentalists don't trust a draft report that says fine sand generated by the frac sand industry isn't harmful to health. (Sierra Club)
July 13, 2016

MADISON, Wis. - A new draft report from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources suggests that frac sand mining by the petroleum industry does not produce fine sand that is a health hazard because it can lodge in human lungs. However, Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said the data used in the report cannot be trusted because it was given to the DNR by the industry itself.

"It's just a perfect example of flawed data that's been supplied by the industry and is now under a lot of criticism and scrutiny," she said. "There's all these ways in which the DNR just has to rely on the industry, and the industry has really figured out how to get its fingers into every part of the process."

Frac sand mining has become a growth industry in Wisconsin, which now produces the majority of sand used in hydraulic fracturing by the petroleum industry. According to the frac sand industry, the data is unbiased and reliable, but a number of other environmental organizations, including Midwest Environmental Advocates, have said the data can't be trusted. If you talk to anyone working in the frac sand industry in western Wisconsin, Schumann said, they'll tell you "the sand gets into everything."

Schumann and others also have long-range concerns about the frac sand industry pouring money into the geology department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. University officials have praised the industry for its heavy investment in the department, which this year includes 18 paid internships in the frac sand industry with combined salaries of more than $140,000. But Schumann isn't a fan.

"We want people in their education to be getting a good, unbiased look of the industry," she said, "and when it's funded completely by the industry it's easy to imagine they're not getting the most unbiased look at things when they're getting it through internships that are funded by the industry."

According to the university, the internships give the students valuable first-hand real-world experience, but Schumann said the real goal of the industry is to ingratiate itself with students who may go on to work for regulatory agencies such as the DNR, in hopes they'll look the other way when frac sand companies pollute Wisconsin's air, land and water.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI