Fracing – a mining procedure and a political strategy
The process is called “hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling”. Frac sand is mixed with high volumes of water and toxic chemicals and forced into the shale, where it holds open fissures allowing the oil or gas to be extracted.
The industry is employing a similar process politically by forcing high volumes of promises of jobs and money into the economic cracks of rural towns and villages across Western Wisconsin. The skirmishes of each small township, village, and community are fought in isolation of one from the other yet, when you look at the mining industry’s tactics, promises, and the known outcomes – a remarkably similar story emerges.
If you will take a tour through a few of these small and isolated places, where frac mining at different stages of development has impacted the politics and lives of real people, you begin to see the large picture.
Bridgeport is a town in Crawford County, Wisconsin, United States
The population was 946 at the 2000 census. Wiki
Bridgeport is in the early stages of a frac sanding mining proposal and is a good example of how the promises, tactics, and politics come to play in most all of the early stages of any mining operation’s entrance into a small community.
Creating fissures in the Democratic process
First the mining interests attempt to find a power welding person who can gain a financial interest in a mine. In Bridgeport this person is Rodney Marfilius who owns a parcel of land sited for a frac sand mine and also is a supervisor on the the town board. Obviously, Rodney would not be a hard sell since he would get the check. Although he abstained from voting on the final approval on March 24th the other two board members voted in favor of granting a reclamation permit allowing the 120 acre mine site on 305 acres to go forward.
Public input and discussion was limited or non-existent in the lead up to the vote on the mine approval and other measures to discourage the voice of Democracy of the people of Bridgeport were taken such as posting a meeting notice the bare 24 hour minimum required by law and limiting public discussion for those who were alert and able to attend the meeting on such short notice. In Bridgeport a planning commission meeting proceeding the board meeting allowed no public comment. A three hour board meeting prior to the vote failed to address issues and questions of concerned citizens in opposition to the mine. In the end, the final vote was taken at a 20 minute meeting with the County Sheriff present to forcibly eject anyone who dared break the “no-speak” rule.
Tactics of subversion, obstruction, and rule bending are a common practice as mining interests inject themselves into rural communities. In Baron County Stacey Neuman was elected to Barron County Board of Supervisors last April. Soon she found her way on to two committees that are the sifters and shakers of the frac mine controversy – the Agriculture and Zoning committees. When Neuman was elected, she lived in the district she represented, as required by state law. Shortly after the election, Neuman sold her home in the district and moved out of the district to Rice Lake to live with her dad/step dad. Of course, the move should nullify her office on the County Board, but not in her case? (pictured left is Neuman’s “legal residence” in Barron County)
Maiden Rock is a village in Pierce County, Wisconsin, United States
The population was 119 at the 2010 census. Wiki
Unlike Bridgeport, Maiden Rock has been home to mining over a decade. The company Fairmount Minerals bought the underground operation in 1996. Controversy over the operation came to a boil with Fairmount’s request for conditional-use permits, filed in late 2010, to expand the mine from 789 to 1,696 acres. Since then the quiet little town has been torn apart and citizens concerned at the mine’s expansion have learned how money and politics can drill into hearts and frac minds with public relation videos that make frac mining appear the best thing since Smokey the Bear and Snow White.
The Fairmont Minerals video below begins with beautiful shots of clean water and majestic wild life.
Perceptions of the company’s efforts vary greatly and appear to have split the village into two camps: People who support the mine and people who wish it would just go away.
Maiden Rock, Bridgeport, Baron County, and a host of other villages and rural communities are all Davids who are fighting the Goliath of the mining industry. The green and quiet countryside so vital to the rural quality of life in which they have chosen to raise their children seems to evaporate overnight. One of the most frequent quotes you will hear from all of new and expanded frac mine sites is, “You won’t believe how fast it happens!”. The quiet country road outside their window is suddenly filled with trucks, their coffee cups vibrate on the kitchen table as another blast rocks the house all hours of the day and night, and they watch their children come off the bus with new fears of the unknown – is the water they are drinking tainted, is the air they breath poisoning their young lungs with carcinogenic silica dust?
The answers to these questions is “unknown”. This has all happened so fast, but if we take a trip South we will discover new and strong evidence is beginning to surface that supports the worst fears of parents near frac mine sites.
Wedron is an unincorporated community in LaSalle County, Illinois, United States.
Wedron is located along the Fox River northeast of Ottawa. Wedron has a post office with ZIP code 60557 Wiki
Suspected polluter Fairmount Minerals
Fairmont Minerals is the same mining company that the people of Maiden Rock are fighting in Wisconsin. The same company that produced the video above featuring all the healthy wildlife and clean water.
Concerns are growing over contaminated groundwater in a small northern Illinois community. Residents in Wedron report a strong gas odor coming from their spigots.
Small town attracts big name
Stephanie Thompson (pictured below holding a milk jug of her tap water) “This is what they expect us to bathe our kids in?”. “We always had bad water. It smelled bad and tasted kind of funny. But the smell of the gasoline didn’t happen until 2009,” Thompson said.
She first reached out to local officials and the EPA, but was not satisfied with the help she was getting. A few years ago, Thompson contacted Erin Brockovich, who drew fame after the landmark case involving Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California. Brockovich joined to form a team including an environmental scientist and a lawyer.
The federal EPA says it has done some testing of private well water in Wedron, found elevated levels of benzene in a handful of wells, and in the soil. But it says more work needs to be done to pinpoint an exact source.
This July, U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA collected soil samples from 18 locations in Wedron using a special drilling rig called a geoprobe that can collect samples beneath the surface. The results of the soil sampling also showed elevated levels of the VOCs benzene, chloroform, ethylbenzene, and xylenes. This investigation also identified several potential sources of the groundwater and soil contamination. In addition, U.S. EPA conducted an investigation this August at the former Hoxsey gas station to determine if underground tanks or piping are still present. The owner of the property has agreed to conduct an excavation to determine if any underground storage tanks remain on the parcel.The EPA EPA report on Wedron ground water
It all happened so fast!
The EPA began testing wells in 1983 or 30 years ago to finally assemble evidence of ground water pollution in Wedron. Even though a direct link to frac mining is yet to be proven conclusively, the Fairmont mining operation is the only industrial site within miles of the tainted wells.
The frac sand industry has grown fast, and no government agency has an up-to-date list of all of the mines and processing plants in Wisconsin. A year ago, the Center identified 41 facilities operating or proposed in the state. This summer 87 are operating or under construction, with another 20 facilities in the proposal stage.
60 new sites operating or under construction in little towns, villages, and communities in Western Wisconsin bearing names like Blair, Maiden Rock, Bridgeport, Hixton, Glenwood City – where handfuls of farmers and small town folk are fighting their local battles with some of the largest mining corporations in the country. The up hill battles are being waged far from the media centers of Milwaukee or Madison. The small town fears and concerns will not be found in the mainstream but in the small county newspapers or blogs and face book.
One big blow
The fight to test the ground water in Wedron began 30 years ago. Over 60 new mining sites and proposals have sprung up in Wisconsin in the past year…even though we don’t know the long term effects of silica sand dust on our health or what effect deep drill into our ground water supply may have in 5, 10, or 20 years.
Where, oh where is all this get-rich-quick Wisconsin sand going? It is off to bigger, better, and more ominous sites for an unknown future.