Iowa City film fest to feature documentary about frac sand mining


Nick Fetty | August 21, 2014
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Caroll Mitchell/Flickr)
A frac sand mine operation in Wisconsin. (Carol Mitchell/Flickr)

The 8th annual Landlocked Film Festival will take place in downtown Iowa City this weekend and among the films being shown is a documentary that examines the affects that frac sand mining has had on the environment as well as the communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Price of Sand – directed by Minnesota native Jim Tittle – examines the recent boom in mining operations for pure silica. This silica is used in hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) operations as well as for manufacturing materials such as glass and toothpaste. The silica acts as a proppant or “a material used in hydraulic rock fracturing in order to keep the fissures open and thereby aid extraction.” The size and shape of different proponents play “a critical role in keeping fractures open and at the desired conductivity.”

These frac sand mining operations are most common along the “driftless area” – also called the Paleozoic Plateau – which “is a unique region of the Upper Mississippi River Basin with a landscape that is rich with ecological and economic opportunities. The area was by-passed by the last continental glacier and has differential weathering and erosion that results in a steep, rugged landscape referred to as karst topography.” The driftless area includes portions of southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin, northwest Illiniois, and northeast Iowa. Allamakee and Winneshiek counties in Iowa currently have a “moratorium on mining.”

Proponents of the practice say that frac sand mining provides a valuable resource while creating jobs. Opponents say that it brings increased traffic as well as wear and tear on roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to rural areas. Opponents are also concerned about the potential health effects associated with frac sand mining.

The viewing will take place at 4 p.m. on Friday August 22 in Room A at the Iowa City Public Library. It will be followed by discussion from a panel of experts from the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health.

“The size and the shape of silica make it a particularly dangerous substance. It is regulated as a human carcinogen. It causes siliceous, it causes tuberculous, it causes problems with kidney disease. According to studies on siliceous we can get a certain amount, maybe up to three micrograms per cubic meter, and we have no ill health effects but above that level, so if we have agricultural dust as well as dust coming from a sand plant, we may be above that threshold and then we may begin to see the scarring and the progression of disease associated with silica exposure.”

-University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Associate Nursing Professor Crispin Pierce during an interview with Iowa Public Radio on August 21, 2014.

Iowa Now in the Fracking Debate


Fracking is a largely debated issue, and protesting is common – Photo by billb1961; Flickr

Pattison Sand Co. of Iowa was sued by residents of Bridgeport, Wisconsin in an attempt to block a mine run by the company.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves the underground pumping of water, chemicals and a special, hard, round sand. That helps open rock layers so rigs can pump out the natural gas and oil. Continue reading

Invasive beetle spreads in Iowa


The purple bag is a trap for the Emerald Ash Borer. Photo by USDAgov, Flickr.
The purple bag is a trap for the Emerald Ash Borer. Photo by USDAgov, Flickr.

An invasive beetle that kills ash trees is spreading in Iowa.

The Emerald Ash Borer is native to East Asia. It lives on the outside of ash trees, and its larvae kill the trees through tunneling. This beetle is 100 percent fatal to ash trees, which are widespread in Iowa.

The Emerald Ash Borer was first identified in Allamakee County in 2010. Now, the beetle has been spotted in two other sports within the northeast county.

Read more about the findings here.

Find out more information about the beetle from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources here.