Frac Sand Company Championed By Walker Gets $52K Fine From DOJ

Company Drilled High-Capacity Wells Without Permits

A pile of frac sand awaiting processing. Photo: Tegan Wendland/WCIJ.

A frac sand company that has been praised by Gov. Scott Walker has been fined $52,500 by the Department of Justice for environmental violations.

Hi-Crush Proppants is a Texas-based company with frac sand operations in the western Wisconsin towns of Augusta, Whitehall and Wyeville. During a 2012 inspection at the company’s Augusta facility, the Department of Natural Resources noticed that Hi-Crush and a contractor had drilled four high capacity wells, even though it only had permit applications for two. The case was referred to the state attorney general’s office, which filed a lawsuit in June.

The month before, Gov. Scott Walker praised Hi-Crush’s investments in the state. He appeared to know about the violations when asked.

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“I think that’s just a good reminder why we wanted to have additional staff, which we put in, to make sure the monitoring is on top of this and as the industry grows, not just individual companies grow, that we’re on top of this every step of the way,” Walker said.

On Friday, Hi-Crush agreed to pay $52,500 for its actions. No press release on the fine was issued by the Department of Justice. Calls to an attorney with Hi-Crush weren’t returned.

Ann Sayers, program director for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, said the violations are an ongoing problem, and wondered if Walker’s support of the company kept the DOJ silent about the settlement.

“It certainly smells a little fishy,” said Sayers. “I think we’re right in asking those questions and demanding that our government and especially our governor is as transparent as possible.”

A spokeswoman for DOJ says they don’t write press releases for every case, though releases were sent in three similar cases recently.