Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
This is a collaborative report by DeSmog’s Steve Horn and Mint Press News staff writer Trisha Marczak.
Within immediate vicinity of a central battleground of the Black Hawk War of 1832, land rife with a resource necessary for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is in the crosshairs of an industry prepared to turn the area into a battle zone once again.
The resource? Frac sand – officially known by the industry as fine-grained silica sand — used as a proppant when blasted thousands of feet down the well during the ecologically volatile fracking process as part of the chemical cocktail that serves as the subject of Josh Fox’s new documentary film, Gasland 2.
The rolling hills of Northeastern Iowa’s Allamakee County defy the state’s stereotypical flat-land geography, and local residents boast of the serene beauty and rich geological history. Yet those same bluffs also play host to robust reservoirs of frac sand.
In order to extract the frac sand, mining corporations have adopted a method of newfangled mountaintop removal of sorts, blasting away entire hills laced with this frac sand to access this new “prize.” While devastating the landscape, it’s justified by Big Oil as necessary because the Midwest’s unparalleled geological characteristics have transformed it into a “New Saudi Arabia for frac sand.”
The Ominous Situation in Allamakee
Frac sand extraction is temporarily on hiatus in Allamakee, where the County Board issued an 18-month moratorium in February 2013. Despite this legislative move, concerned residents living in the county see the writing on the wall. That’s because permits are already being issued for frac sand-centric rail construction loading zones. Citizens see it as a question not of “if” but of “when.”
Allamakee County residents don’t have to look far to see evidence the industry is creeping in.
Less than 30 miles away, one of Pattison Sand Company’s mines located south of McGregor, Iowa, is already churning out frac sand, blasting away whole sections of ancient bluffs to obtain it. A quaint 150-foot bluff that stood near the mine just two years ago has now been replaced by barren land.
“This is why we’re fighting this,” Allamakee County resident Jeff Abbas told us while standing near Pattison’s mine, located feet away from what used to be the enormous bluff. “It took hundreds of thousands of years to build this landscape the way it is.”
Like his neighbors, Abbas’s motive for opposing frac sand mining in his County has numerous rationales, yet at the core is his appreciation for the land’s historical significance and beauty.
It’s incredibly fragile, it’s incredibly rare … and now, it’s incredibly gone,” he said. “It will never be replaced in our lifetime … in anybody’s lifetime.
The landscape is an issue that tugs on the heartstrings of locals, yet it’s just one concern on a long list of objections.
The silica-rich land of Allamakee County sits atop the Jordan Aquifer, a source of water for 300,000 Iowans not expected to last much longer with current usage rates. Areas of the aquifer are already expected to reach depletion in the next 50 years, according to an Iowa Geological and Water Survey.
The health impacts of frac sand exposure are also alarming for residents and workers, as recently documented in a June 2012 Occupational Safety and Health Administration bulletin, which highlighted that fine-grained silica exposure causes silicosis which can lead to lung cancer. This sordid scientific reality is also acknowledged in Pattison Sand Company’s own literature.
Pattison’s Political Connections to the Powerful