New report highlights threats to clean water, recreation and tourism from NE Iowa frac sand mining

From a press release by the Iowa Policy Project, a Council member organization:

Potential impacts on water quantity, water quality, recreation and tourism have prompted necessary questions about the mining of Iowa sand for fracking, researchers say.

In a new report for the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project (IPP), researchers Aaron Kline and David Osterberg point out the environmental and aesthetic assets of Northeast Iowa may be threatened by the growing attraction of the area for this specialty sand mining.

“Trout fishing enthusiasts should be worried — but so should anyone who drinks water in the northeastern corner of Iowa. And they are,” said Osterberg, founding director and an environment and energy researcher at IPP. “Local leaders in Winneshiek and Allamakee counties have questions, and given the potential long-term impacts of this mining industry, they deserve answers.”

The new report notes the so-called “frac sand” mining industry swept through Wisconsin in recent years, and areas of both southeastern Minnesota and northeastern Iowa have deposits of the same kind of sand sought by the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” industry.


Learn about the Iowa Policy Project’s findings
or download the full report.


In the fracking process, the sand is used to hold open fractures in rock formations that permit the release of oil and gas.

“This sand is attractive to the fracking industry because it is well-rounded and consists of nearly pure quartz, which is highly resistant to crushing,” said Kline, a graduate student in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Iowa.

“The sand is found, among other places in the St. Peter Sandstone formation along the Mississippi River in Northeast Iowa. You can even see it in many rock outcroppings and bluffs in the region. But if it goes away, so could the scenic bluffs promoted by the tourism industry in that area.”

The researchers also noted the geology of Northeast Iowa includes unusual karst formations that include sinkholes that lose surface water to groundwater sources — and bypass natural filtration provided by soil. So groundwater sources are less protected from the mining activity.

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