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Wis. weighs punishment for St. Croix River frac sand spill

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Sand mining facility
The sand mining facility operated by Tiller Corporation in Grantsburg, Wis., near the St. Croix River, as photographed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources on April 26, 2012. Sand and other sediment overflowed from the site and traveling through local waterways and into the St. Croix River. The spill was first noticed by a hiker on April 22, 2012. DNR and local officials traced the spill back to a leaking containment pond at the sand mining facility.
Photo courtesy Wisconsin DNR

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is weighing a penalty to be imposed on two sand mines for large spills in the St. Croix River.

In both of the spills, the mining companies were not meeting their permit conditions.

Wisconsin DNR enforcement specialist Deb Dix said one site had no erosion control structures, and the other used soft sand to build a berm.

"They did not construct properly, were not out there on a daily basis to watch what's going on, and with their permit conditions they should have an understanding of what they need to do so that we don't need to be out there every day," Dix said.

In one spill, sand-laden water flowed through a wetland into the St. Croix River.

Wisconsin is home to more than 63 frac sand mines and 37 processing plants. The state is experiencing a boom in mining for sand used in hydraulic fracturing used in boosting production from natural gas and oil wells.  

The Wisconsin DNR's Tom Woletz said many of the companies getting into the frac sand business are new to mining.

"We're seeing fugitive dust emission issues; we're seeing stack test violations; we're seeing facilities permitted one way and built another," he said.

The agency has reassigned some staffers to work on sand mine issues.