Public Lab Research note

Recent conversations on the frac sand issue

by stevie , dswenson , glennwalquist , marlokeno , Pat | September 04, 2018 20:32 04 Sep 20:32 | #17061 | #17061


Over the past month or so I've been getting in touch with some friends in the Midwest area who are fighting against the frac sand mining issue. I was interested in learning what people's thoughts were on current challenges, ideas for next steps, and pathways forward. It was great to catch up, and it would be even better to loop in with more people, but in the meantime, here are some so the ideas I was hearing:

Recent work

Some of the recent work people had been supporting includes:

  • Water quality monitoring with the University of Wisconsin stream monitoring program (Mary),
  • Submitting comments on air quality permits, and compiling information for outreach (Pat),
  • Working on aerial surveillance of mines and focusing karst landscape and groundwater survey (Forest),
  • Chairing and highlighting community concerns in township meetings, and setting up a Purple Air air quality monitor for real time data (Dwight)
  • Air quality monitoring program around proposed mine site with FRM Standard equipment, working with schools on leadership programs for involvement in the frac sand issue, and supporting projects that dive into the concerns around frac sand mining with Save the Hills Alliance (Cheryl).

Also of note, Glenn, who has worked for years to oppose the mine in Ludington MI, has his advocacy work on hold as the state works on negotiations to buy property from the company who has been mining in his area.

Opportunities Identified:

There were three overlapping areas of opportunities people mentioned and brainstormed around in moving forward around the frac sand issue. One was in compiling materials for individuals to use in reporting complaints, a second was in using low cost air quality tools such as the Purple Air which report in real time, and the third was in exploring more around nuisance violations particularly in noise. Other pathways forward individuals brought up included showing up in person at air quality permit hearings (Pat), continued water quality work (Mary), gathering well water data in an online database (Forest), and monitoring around a new mining site that has baseline data once operations begin (Cheryl).

Compiling reporting materials:

Pat, Mary, Dwight, and Cheryl all spoke to the idea of compiling reporting materials both in paper form, and sharing how to report in a workshop format. Here were some of the opportunities, challenges and further brainstorming people mentioned in regard to idea:

Name: Opportunities around this idea: Challenges around this idea: Further brainstorming:
Dwight Dwight does reporting and has some materials that could be useful in compiling for this. Would need a training session for people to get comfortable with the material. Would also need to think about how we would update it (as contacts change). Could add data to reporting forms you get from your phone on noise, air quality, and runoff events.
Cheryl It's good to talk about where people can go, and what they can do. An outcome could be to get ahold of the media. With pressure there might be some legislative changes. In order for people to know what to report and to who it should be reported to, they would need to review the ordinances and contacts for their own counties. It would have to go county by county unless it was air quality reporting then it would go to DNR. I think the first step, for each county or town would be to examine their own zoning - What are the violations in each county?
Pat Having a folder together and training on reporting can help make people more comfortable with the process. People aren't doing the reporting because they don't know how, and they don't know who to talk to. We can also offer handhelds for supporting their reporting with monitoring info.
Mary Besides complaining to authorities, we have elections coming up, and we should start sending complaints to legislatures. - People can support with data they collect, for example from their phones.

Low cost air quality monitors The second idea a couple people brought up was using low cost air quality monitors that offer real time data. A few people specifically referred to the Purple Air as an option:

Name: Opportunities around this idea: Challenges around this idea: Further brainstorming:
Dwight Started using the Purple Air tool last month, found it intuitive, easy and helpful as it taps into a larger network online and provides real time data. - Already used it to contact the mine when PM was reporting higher. Mine seemed open to learning more about real time monitors.
Pat It could put pressure on the state legislature, and also social pressure within counties. - Wondering if it could be done in conjunction with the health department?

Nuisance- noise and light pollution Another idea a couple people had was around monitoring for noise and for light pollution:

Name: Opportunities around this idea: Challenges around this idea: Further brainstorming:
Mary I think it may be easier to measure and visualize - Light stress is real in relation to human health. This is something we could explore.
Glenn There is sound monitoring by the state (MI) State doesn't see it as their job to regulate noise. There aren’t enough people and resources here to enforce nuisance laws, so we haven’t been able to get any through -

Next Steps:

There are some clear overlaps on ideas, and a good start on some brainstorms for what could go into this work. A good next step might be to get on the phone and dive deeper into some of these pathways. What do you think?


@stevie has marked shannon as a co-author.

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@stevie has marked dswenson as a co-author.

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@stevie has marked pat as a co-author.

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@stevie has marked marlokeno as a co-author.

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@stevie has marked glennwalquist as a co-author.

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Any compilation regarding sand mine issues would be greatly welcomed. Information tends to be fractured--some here, some there. Although I know there were 13 mines without WPDES permits trying to find them is a challenge.

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Hi all! We're going to have an open call on this topic next Tuesday, September 11th, at 3pm ET/ 2pm CT. Join us at


Or call in: US: +1 669 900 6833 Meeting ID: 934 187 763

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I will most likely not be able to participate. I have been concerned and involved with frac sand air quality issues for years. Regarding the topic above for low cost air quality monitors: There have been numerous attempts to monitor air quality around frac sand mines including the work of Crispin Pierce, the Minnesota PCA, a group from the University of Iowa, Concerned Citizens of Chippewa Falls, and Public Lab ( see: ). Regardless of what one thinks of the quality of any of these efforts, none have shown any potential air quality problem. Why would one think more monitoring would show something different? In particular, how would new monitoring be different? Please be specific. Thanks.

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