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Breaking the Rules for Profit: An Analysis of the Frac Sand Industry’s Violations of State Regulations & Manipulation of Local Governments in Wisconsin

By Stephanie Porter - Land Stewradship Project, November 2014

The frac sand industry has rapidly proliferated across Wisconsin, with the number of facilities multiplying by more than tenfold within four years,from 10 in 2010 to 135in 2014. The Land Stewardship Project reviewed readily available public data from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR)and media reports to determine what conclusions can be drawn about this industry and its rapid growth. We found that:

  • Of the forty-seven frac sand companies currently operating in Wisconsin, twenty-four or 51% have seriously violated DNR regulations, manipulated local governments, or engaged in influence peddling and conflicts of interest.
  • Twenty of forty-seven companies (43%) not only violated DNR regulations, but they required substantial regulatory action to come into compliance —or, even worse, never came into compliance even after court action and fines. (One county-level regulator was quoted as saying “citations are pretty much ineffective for this industry.”
  • In total, between 2011 and 2014 there were at least nineteen cases of frac sand companies abusing the annexation process to avoid regulations, engaging in influence peddling, and creating conflicts of interest in local governments.

The industry in both Wisconsin and Minnesota has claimed that violations of state regulations and abuses of the public trust are isolated incidents by “bad apples” or new, inexperienced companies. However, the data paints a picture of an industry in which violations are the norm, not the exception, and insider dealing, conflicts of interest, and influence peddling are common.

As recently as October 6, for instance, a mine in Trempealeau County was shut down for operating without proper permits, prompting a frustrated local regulator to say “they are just running wild, with no permit at all.” This recent case was not the first time a violation this basic has occurred. In 2011, Unimin Corporation –which has been mining for over 40 years –began constructing a site without a permit and continued with construction even after being notified by the DNR of their violation. As seen in these examples and the many others detailed below, this is an industry that consistently ignores state regulations enacted for the sake of the health of local citizens, rural communities, and the land.

Read the report (PDF).

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