Four sand mining companies form group to set mutual 'code of conduct'

2012-08-29T05:15:00Z 2012-08-29T13:57:24Z Four sand mining companies form group to set mutual 'code of conduct'KAREN RIVEDAL | Wisconsin State Journal | krivedal@madison.com | 608-252-6106 madison.com

Wisconsin's chaotically fast-growing sand mining industry took a step toward stricter self-regulation Tuesday with the public rollout of a new statewide member organization formed by a handful of the industry's top players.

The Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, or WISA, aims to hold members to high standards of environmental protection, management and safety, said association president Rich Budinger, who works for Wisconsin Industrial Sand Co., which owns three large sand mines in central Wisconsin.

"All these topics have regulations throughout the state," he said. "We want to be able to set the bar higher, with association standards that exceed requirements."

Budinger said WISA leaders would use annual reviews to ensure member companies are following the group's "strict code of conduct."

The group, announced Tuesday, was formed by Badger Mining Corp., U.S. Silica, Unimin Corp. and Fairmount Minerals, the parent company of Wisconsin Industrial Sand Co. All but U.S. Silica have had sand mining operations in Wisconsin for decades.

Tom Woletz, who works on sand mining regulation for the state Department of Natural Resources, called the group's four members "top-tier companies."

"They know how to mine, they're environmentally responsible and they have good management practices," Woletz said, adding the DNR "absolutely welcomed" the group's desire to help guide an industry that creates jobs but also generates controversy over dust, traffic, noise and other concerns.

Downsized DNR compliance units have been challenged keeping up with the industry growth, especially in dust oversight.

"Everyone is excited about this group, to finally be able to get a group of people you can interact with," Woletz said. "They want to make sure this can be done responsibly."

Kerry Schumann, executive director of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, declined to comment on WISA's creation.

In May, Wisconsin had about 73 existing and proposed sand mining operations, plus 32 processing plants, Woletz said.

The sand-mining industry is growing rapidly due to a surge in a form of natural gas mining known as fracking, which uses a mixture of fine sand, water and chemicals to break the gas loose from rock. The best sand for fracking is made of round, quartzite crystals, and Wisconsin has large and accessible deposits of that type of sand.

"There's literally dozens of mines that have been opened up and are operating in the last two years in Wisconsin," Budinger said.

Woletz said WISA eventually could serve the same communications and organization role that trade groups for other industries do.

"We can send people to their groups and talk to 200 or 300 people at a time about the concerns that are going on, what the problems are and how we can mitigate them," he said.

Budinger said WISA would have a lobbying role, having recently hired law firms in Madison and Milwaukee to handle such activities. But he said the group was more focused on adding members and promoting "fact-based, scientific dialogue" about mining with state lawmakers, local governments and the public.

Lobbying records at the state's Government Accountability Board had no listing for WISA, which incorporated in March.

Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks campaign spending, said WISA could be "gearing up" for the next legislative session in 2013.

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(4) Comments

  1. what justice
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    what justice - August 29, 2012 11:51 am
    Self-regulation is merely a method by which they protect themselves from the interests of the surrounding communities.

    It seems to be that 'fracking' is going to happen. They will need sand from WI. The challenge for the communities where this sand mining is happening and for all of the rest of us who care about the landscapes and habitats that will be affected is to PLAN. By that I mean that we need to identify where the sand deposits are--and where the areas of greatest concern are (sensitive human and wildlife habitats) and then to focus the mining activity in areas where they are less likely to do serious damage to areas of critical concern.

    In all areas they need to conduct their activities to create the least possible damage to the surrounding human and wildlife habitats. Rules must be designed NOT by the companies alone, but with the participation of experts and community members, as well. Then a real system of monitoring and accountability must be developed--from the outside, not from the companies themselves.

    Now, the companies are steamrolling some communities and others are resisting and creating stand-offs. In this situation, the companies will follow the path of least resistance, which will be determined more by the political capacity of the local residents than by a careful, scientific planning process.
  2. fact_based
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    fact_based - August 29, 2012 6:15 am
    Self-regulation? LOL
  3. mhazzard
    Report Abuse
    mhazzard - August 28, 2012 9:30 pm
    The residents in JimJonestown didn't think the Kool aid would harm anyone either but they found out the truth "the hard way"...
  4. phredrus
    Report Abuse
    phredrus - August 28, 2012 9:07 pm
    Perhaps the Wisconsin State Journal could actually require "reporters" to bring facts and research to a story, instead of just printing the lobbyists' press releases. It would have been embarrassing even 25 years ago for the WSJ to print something like this – with no understanding or explanation of the serious issues involved.

    The sad thing is that people read this to learn about the destructive sand mining issues, but are told that everything is all okay - these are "top tier companies" that are agreeing to protect us. What does that even mean? Nothing, of course. Perhaps some critical thinking and reporting would be useful.

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