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frac sand mining

A conveyor pours crushed sand into a stockpile before it is washed and sorted by grain class size at Preferred Sands mine in Blair, Wis.

Ever wonder why the Koch brothers have so much interest in Wisconsin?

Sure, the conservative billionaire brothers like the tea party politics of Gov. Scott Walker.

But perhaps a better explanation is buried underground.

Wisconsin, along with neighboring Minnesota, has some of the best frac sand in the continent, and Koch Industries is heavily invested in natural gas extraction using a technique known as hydraulic fracturing.

The type of silica sand found in Wisconsin is mixed with water and chemicals, then injected at high-pressure into bedrock to help bring natural gas deposits to the surface.

This post from Republic Report digs into what it calls “the endless procession of television ads praising the value of fracking or the amazing number of D.C.-based ‘institutes’ or ‘foundations’ promoting the controversial drilling method.”

Unfortunately, fracking is being increasingly blamed for poisoning ground water and leaking dangerous chemicals into the environment.

Republic Report notes that many of the pro-fracking think tanks like the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council are funded by Koch Industries, the Kansas-based company involved in everything from refining and minerals to commodity trading and pipelines.

Koch's Wisconsin operations include Flint Hills Resources, which produces gasoline and asphalt; the C. Reiss Coal Co., which supplies coal throughout the Great Lakes region; and Georgia-Pacific, the packaging and paper firm. Georgia-Pacific’s chemical division is also now stepping up production of proppant resin, a coating for small particles used in hydraulic fracturing.

Of course, Wisconsin doesn’t have any oil or gas deposits of its own. Most fracking is going on in Pennsylvania and western states, along with Texas and Louisiana.

But from Koch Industries’ perspective, the more frac sand that comes on the market, the cheaper it becomes. That’s why the company has an interest in Wisconsin sand.

And as with most issues, it is wise to follow the money.

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Consider the new report from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign showing that the sand mining and natural gas industries have given Wisconsin candidates nearly $758,000 dollars since 2007 — with contributions spiking last year as sand mining took off in the state.

In 2007, when only five sand mines were operating in Wisconsin, the industry contributed just $18,762 to state candidates.

But contributions spiked last year to $413,642, with about 100 mines and processing plants now running in Wisconsin.

Gov. Walker has received the most gas and sand money of any state politician, accepting $520,266, according to the Democracy Campaign report.

It is worth noting that Walker’s new budget includes money to help the sand industry, including upgrades to freight rail lines and new positions at the Department of Natural Resources to oversee development of new sand mines.

But it's not just Republicans like Walker who are sweeping up the fracking industry campaign cash.

This new report from Eco Watch shows that Democratic governors are also raking in funds from fossil fuel companies.