Frac sand mining continues to be one of the more debated topics in Wisconsin.
On Monday night, the Trempealeau County Board voted to temporarily stop any new mining operations or current ones from expanding for the next year.
So why the controversy?
While the economic impact is pretty clear, there isn't a whole lot of research out there on what it could do to our health and the environment.
Frac sand has started becoming big business for the oil and gas industry in recent years.
“There's opportunities for job creation,” said Anne Hlavacka, director of the Small Business Center at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “Job created directly in the mining process, and then the related if there's infrastructure, buildings being built or those kinds of activities. Those end up creating jobs.”
To add to that, Hlavaka said frac sand mining operations have the ability to boost the local economy by millions of dollars, but as great as this sounds she said it comes at a price.
“Particularly in our region, I think, a lot is focused on tourism because we have so much that's built around our recreational activities, and that also is sometimes impacted adversely, potentially, if frac sand operations are too close to those projects,” said Hlavacka.
“This type of pollution is really a form of air pollution,” said Jim Steinhoff of the La Crosse County Health Department.
Steinhoff said from what little research is out there, the dust created from frac sand mining could potentially cause lung cancer and silicosis, a disease making it hard to breathe.
Steinhoff also said frac sand could have a negative impact on fish and plants if it enters rivers and streams, but even so, no one really knows how much is needed to really make a difference.
“It all depends on the dose and how much people are breathing, and that's the question that has to be answered at some point,” said Steinhoff.
Steinhoff also adds wetting the sand can keep the dust from becoming airborne, but to make sure all of the sand is wetted properly is a big task to take on.
Steinhoff said because frac sand mining uses a lot of water, another concern is drying out water wells and affect neighborhoods located near the mines.
Roads and streets could see ware and tare from transporting and handling equipment needs for frac sand mining, but Hlavaka said that could, in turn, spur rail activity and create more jobs that way.
La Crosse County does contain the sand used for fracking, but currently there are no frac sand mining operations in the county.