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The frac-sand boom

A frac sand murmur in the land of the Kinnickinnic


Wisconsin Frac Sand

Wisconsin Frac Sand

Kinnickinnic Township Chair Jerry Olson said he was taken aback this week by a murmur about the possible encroachment of frac sand mining. The six-mile-square township north of River Falls is a guardian of one of the most prized trout streams in the Upper Midwest -- the Kinnickinnic River -- and  the town board has never been formally approached by any company wanting to mine silica sand for sale to the oil and gas industry.

But at a Town Board meeting Sept. 3, Brian O'Connor of Preferred Sands of Minnesota said a delay by the township in developing a frac sand mining ordinance would prevent his company from starting to mine in the area as early as the spring of 2014, Olson said.

"It was very strange,'' said Olson, who noted that the company had not previously come forward with any plans. "It made me a little more worried about not having an ordinance in place.''

A call left for O'Connor at the Preferred Sands mine and processing site in Woodbury, Minn., was not immediately returned.The Pennsylvania-based company also operates a frac sand mine in Blair, Wisc., that has been cited by the DNR for unsanctioned discharges of sediment into the surrounding watershed.

At the Sept. 3 meeting of the Kinnickinnic board, members approved a six-month extension to a frac sand moratorium that was set to expire soon. Olson said the extension was needed to finish the ordinance. As township chairman, he wants an ordinance that will protect the property rights of people who might want to mine sand without "trampling'' the Kinnickinnic River and the rights of others in the county who cherish the area's rural ambiance.

"We're pretty sensitive about what gets washed into the Kinnickinnic,'' Olson said.

Big Texas frac sand company eyes 3rd Wisconsin facility



Hi-Crush Partners of Houston, Texas, is getting close to making a public announcement about its latest frac sand mining project in western Wisconsin. The publicly traded company has been negotiating with property owners in Trempealeau County on hilly, agricultural lands between the City of Independence and the county seat of Whitehall.


On Monday of this week, six local property owners and Hi-Crush Whitehall LLC submitted a Petition for Direct Annexation by Unanimous Approval to the City of Whitehall. Tina Kay Sass, the city's administrator, said the company is preparing to present its plans in early September. The Hi-Crush project also would involve adjoining land that would be annexed by the City of Independence, directly west of Whitehall. Most if not all of the combined frac sand site currently lies in Lincoln Township, which would be compensated in some way for losing a chunk of its tax base under a possible intergovernmental agreement.

Hi-Crush was launched in mid-2011 as a frac sand supplier to the oil and gas industry. It has become a major player in Wisconsin, the nation's No. 1 frac sand producing state, by operating mines located in Wyeville (600 acres) and Augusta (1,000 acres.) The size of the Whitehall-Independence site could possibly rival Augusta in size.

The Trempealeau County Board of Supervisors this week adopted a moratorium of up to one year against additional permitting of frac sand facilities, but it's not clear if the temporary ban would slow the Hi-Crush project. For instance, there was testimony at the public hearing for the moratorium that cities within the county could continue to issue new frac sand operating permits. Annexation of frac sand sites by cities has become a hot topic in Trempealeau County and elsewhere in Wisconsin because it undercuts county control of a major new land use and robs townships and counties of important tax base.