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DNR To Study If Frac Sand Mining Contaminates Groundwater

Heavy Metals Found In Water Used To Wash Sand In Wisconsin

MPCA Photos (CC-BY-NC)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning a study to see if frac sand mining is causing heavy metals to leach into the state’s groundwater.

DNR frac sand sector specialist Roberta Walls said the agency sampled water used to wash frac sand at 13 mines in western Wisconsin in 2013. They found aluminum, copper, arsenic and lead at elevated levels.

“And we are seeing presence of those in the process water ponds,” Wall said, “to the extent and degree (that) those are the types of things that we need to take a closer look at.”

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The metals appear to be part of the natural makeup of the clay “cement” that holds together certain sandstone formations. The mining process can break up or disturb that clay and Walls said the agency wants to to see if frac sand wash water is carrying those metals into groundwater supplies.

“So, the groundwater study is going to be the department’s effort toward looking at what, if any, concerns are centering around groundwater quality and metals with industrial sand mining,” she said.

The DNR is currently building a list of stakeholders to participate in the study but no timeline has been announced. Walls said that if the DNR sees a link between frac sand mining and groundwater contamination the agency will act accordingly.

“Well, the study will definitely help the department out with regards to any best management practices or other regulatory monitoring requirements that might come in the next permit period,” she said.