Separate from such incidents, concerns have been raised about water usage and quantity. Many frac sand operations have high-capacity wells and use millions of gallons of water a month to process sand or as part of fugitive dust control measures. Some processing plants use 4,000 to 6,500 gallons per minute to move and wash raw material. The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey is currently spearheading a five-year study in Chippewa County to evaluate how frac sand mining and other activities impact groundwater recharge and withdrawal.
One of the main concerns commonly raised by citizens revolves around the use of chemicals in the washing and processing of frac sand. Given the large quantities of water used to move and wash sand, processing plants seek to reuse water wherever possible. Chemicals known as flocculants, widely utilized in waste water treatment plants, are introduced during processing to cause sediment in murky water to clump together, allowing water to be separated from unwanted material and then reused. Some flocculants contain potentially toxic chemicals, known as acrylamides and polyacrylamides, and experts lack a clear understanding of what happens when these chemicals are buried with mine waste or seep from holding ponds into groundwater systems.
In 2016 the Wisconsin DNR announced that they plan to study whether heavy metals leach from holding ponds into groundwater. Water from these ponds have been found to contain elevated levels of aluminum, copper, arsenic, and lead, likely released from the clays during processing of frac sand.
- Kremer, Rich. Is Frac Sand Mining Causing Metal Contamination in Groundwater? Wisconsin Public Radio, October 13, 2016.
- Kremer, Rich. DNR To Study If Frac Sand Mining Contaminates Groundwater: Heavy Metals Found In Water Used To Wash Sand In Wisconsin. Wisconsin Public Radio, April 12, 2016.
- Knight, Joe. Water coming from sand mines clouding streams. Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, September 13, 2014.
- Verburg, Steven. Frac sand miners fined $60,000 for stormwater spill in creek. Wisconsin State Journal, September 9, 2014.
- Dirr, Alison. Frac sand mining company faces $200,000 in water, air penalties. Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, December 17, 2013
- Additional coverage of this story: "Frac sand company fined $200,000." WXOW, December 16, 2013.
- Kennedy, Tony. Pollution worries abound in frac sand waste streams. Star Tribune, July 13, 2013.
- Kremer, Rich. DNR: Frac Sand Companies Failed to Contain Runoff During Torrential Rains. Wisconsin Public Radio News, July 3, 2013.
- Prengaman, Kate. Frac sand industry faces DNR violations, warnings. Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, March 3, 2013.
- Baran, Madeleine. Frac sand sediment spills into St. Croix River. Minnesota Public Radio, May 18, 2012.
- Marcotty, Josephine. Wis. sand-mine spills cause call for penalties against Minn. firms. Star Tribune, June 12, 2012.
- Chippewa County Groundwater Study: Interim Report. Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, University of Wisconsin-Extension, March 2015.
- Cooperative Extension. 2012. Study to evaluate groundwater impacts of frac sand mining, irrigated agriculture in Chippewa County. University of Wisconsin-Extension, August 15.
- Parsen, Michael J. and Madeline B. Gotkowitz. 2013. Managing Chippewa County's groundwater - today and tomorrow: Evaluating the impacts of industrial sand mines and irrigated agriculture on the county's water resources. Factsheet 07. Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey.
- Prengaman, Kate. 2013. New studies measure air, water impacts of frac sand mines. Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, March 3.
- Yager, Alicia. 2013. Groundwater study monitoring effect of sand mines in county. The Chippewa Herald, January 9.
- Yingling, Ginny. 2012. Health Concerns with Frac Sand Mining. Minnesota Environmental Health Association (MEHA) Winter Conference, January 31.