Clayton county rezones 746 acres for frack sand mining


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Great Plains Sand of Jordan, Minnesota mines and processes silica sand in a process that will mirror those in Clayton County. (MPCA Photos/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 17, 2016

The Clayton County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Tuesday night to rezone 746 acres to allow for the underground mining of silica sand used in the hydraulic fracking process.

The zoning adjustment, requested by Pattison Sand Company, marks the end of a yearlong effort by the company to change the land from agricultural use to heavy industrial use. Citizens of Clayton County spoke up in favor and against the expansion of Pattison’s underground mining effort. Several of Pattison’s employees commended the company for its fair wages and good benefits. The workers also pointed out that the company and its employees help to stimulate the local economy.

Residents who live nearby voiced concern that the zoning change document does not mention the protection of human health, the local environment, or the aesthetic qualities of the bluffs that line the Mississippi River. According to a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), breathing in silica found in silica sands can cause a lung disease characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lungs, reducing their ability to intake oxygen. The report also said that silica can cause lung cancer and has been linked to other diseases, such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease. Workers who breathe in the silica sands every day are at the highest risk.

In contrast, University of Iowa professor Patrick O’Shaughnessy, presented research at the meeting which found little air quality risks associated with frack sand mining. O’Shaughnessy’s team of researchers did, however, recommend 16 zoning restrictions concerning air and water quality, noise pollution, and scenic preservation. None of these restrictions were adopted by the zoning board. Many speakers urged the board to table discussions or to adopt the researchers’ zoning restrictions, but restrictions were rejected and the board passed the zoning change 4-0.

Research suggests babies born near fracking sites more likely to experience health complications


Nick Fetty | August 26, 2014
A natural gas fracking operation in Shreveport, Louisiana. (Daniel Foster/Flickr)
A natural gas fracking operation near Shreveport, Louisiana. (Daniel Foster/Flickr)

The first study to examine the effects of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – on babies born near wells found that these infants are more likely to experience health risks.

While this study is still preliminary, the researchers found that congenital heart defects were more common for babies born near gas wells in Colorado, the state with the nation’s strictest oil and gas regulations. Babies born to mothers who live within a mile of 125 or more wells experienced a 30 percent increase in congenital heart defects compared to those with no wells within 10 miles. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives back in January.

A separate, non-peer reviewed study found that babies born near gas wells in Pennsylvania were more likely to experience low birth weight which can lead to developmental issues while local authorities in Utah are investigating after a recent spate of stillbirths, likely linked to unsafe levels of air pollution caused by the the gas and oil industry. The air quality in rural parts of Utah was comparable to the amount of exhaust from 100 million automobiles within a year. Infant mortality rates saw a major increase in Utah within four years with two deaths in 2010 compared to 12 in 2013.

The Colorado study was deemed non-conclusive because it did not account for “different types of wells, water quality, mothers’ behavior or genetics.” The American Heart Association has provided funding to conduct a similar study over the next four years.

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.

Proposed oil pipeline would run through 16 Iowa counties


Nick Fetty | July 10, 2014
An oil pipeline in Alaska. Photo by Sebastian Saarloos; flickr
An oil pipeline in Alaska.
Photo by Sebastian Saarloos; flickr

An 1,100-mile underground pipeline would run from Lyon County in the northwest corner of Iowa to Lee County in the southeast if it properly clears hurdles by various regulatory groups.

Energy Transfer Partners L.P. – a Dallas, Texas-based company – has yet to file a petition with the Iowa Utilities Board for regulatory review though hopes to meet with officials to discuss state requirements. The pipeline is expected to carry about 320,000 barrels of crude oil through 17 counties in the state each day.

This proposal comes on the heels of a booming oil production sector in North Dakota, particularly the Bakken region, which creates more than 1 million barrels per day. Hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies are often used to procure the oil. Environmentalists and other groups have been skeptical of these methods which have had adverse consciences in several instances.

Fright trains currently transport oil through nine counties in the northwest and northeast corners of the state. In 2013, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 in the Canadian town of Lac-Mégantic. Crude oil drilled in North Dakota’s Bakken region is considered “more flammable than other oil” which prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement stricter regulations with the transportation of the substance.

Energy Transfer Partners’ Board of Directors has already approved plans for the 30-inch diameter pipeline and expects operations to begin by the end of 2016.

Edit: Post originally stated that the pipeline would pass through 17 Iowa counties.

On the Radio: Iowa Policy Project Report


Photo by Carol Mitchell; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers a report released by the Iowa Policy Project concerning silica sand mining in Iowa. Listen to the audio below or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

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

Sand mining controversy in northeast Iowa


sand mining

Iowa Public Radio has created a series of stories about the fracking controversy in northeast Iowa.

There’s no oil or gas fracking in Iowa. The controversy is over frack sand mining. This is finely-grained sand that’s used during the process of hydraulic fracking.

Many communities in northeast Iowa are worried about some of the consequences of the increased sand mining. These include destruction of local hills, increased truck traffic and pollution.

Check out the stories here.