Suits balloon against frac sand mining ‘running amok,’ Onalaska lawyer says

Hi Crush
(Hi-Crush Partners photo)

ONALASKA, Wis. (WKBT) — Nearly a dozen western Wisconsin residents filed new lawsuits against frac sand mines in Jackson and Chippewa counties, while almost four dozen others are trying to amend four lawsuits against Hi-Crush mines in Trempealeau County.
“Frac sand mining facilities are destructive forces on our rural landscape,” said Tim Jacobson, an attorney at Fitzpatrick, Skemp & Butler in Onalaska who has been involved in legal challenges against several planned and existing frac sand mines in Wisconsin, as well as one originally planned near Zion National Park in southern Utah.
“These open-pit mines depress property values, pollute our rivers and the air, and shatter the peaceful lives and well-being of those who live nearby with blasting and round-the-clock industrial noises,” Jacobson said.
The lawsuits against the Hi-Crush mines in Blair and Whitehall, pending since 2019, have been put on hold twice.
The first time was when Hi-Crush filed motions to dismiss, which a court ultimately rejected. The second delay came when Hi-Crush filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy court protection.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs negotiated provisions in the bankruptcy court confirmation order to preserve the rights of those individuals to continue their state court lawsuits against Hi-Crush.
During the bankruptcy proceedings, plaintiffs’ counsel learned the identity of liability insurers and contractors of Hi-Crush, which the plaintiffs now seek to bring in as additional defendants, Jacobson said.
Five more people are seeking to join the lawsuit as plaintiffs against Hi-Crush Blair.
Nine people have filed a new lawsuit against the Wisconsin Proppants Hixton frac sand facility in Jackson County, and two are suing the EOGDS Mine in Chippewa County.
The lawsuits allege that the facilities have caused a significant loss in property values and increase water pollution, as well as exposing nearby residents to toxic silica dust, blasting shockwaves and excessive noise, among other nuisances.
The lawsuit against Wisconsin Proppants also claims that the mining operations harmed an adjacent beef cattle operation and points out that the facility spilled about 400,000 gallons of mine sludge in 2019.
The suit against EOG Resources and Kraemer Mining & Materials asserts that repeated blasting at the mine is believed to have collapsed the plaintiffs’ drinking water well and cracked their house foundation, resulting in dangerous levels of radon gas seeping into the home, Jacobson said.
The frac sand mines being sued have been cited for a range of environmental and safety violations. For example, in addition to the Wisconsin Proppants 400,000-gallon spill, Hi-Crush Whitehall caused a spill of 10 million gallons of mine sludge in 2018. Both spills contaminated the Trempealeau River.
Hi-Crush Blair also received a notice of violation from the Wisconsin DNR for excessive arsenic in well water starting on or about November 2016 and continuing at least through October 16, 2017. Groundwater contamination reached a point of being as high as four times the acceptable limit of arsenic, without any notice being provided to neighbors regarding potential impact to their drinking water wells, Jacobson said.
The companies also have received dozens of citations from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, while Wisconsin Proppants has received as many as 44 citations or orders from MSHA.
“Frac sand mining companies have been running amok,” Jacobson said. “These lawsuits filed by neighbors to the mines seek to impose some accountability and protect these folks from ongoing harm.”