An Iowa City based research organization has released a report showing tourism and environmental assets in northeast Iowa would be threatened if a specialty sand mining procedure known as fracking is allowed in the area. The study by Iowa Policy Project (IPP) researchers Aaron Kline and David Osterberg) comes as local leaders in Winneshiek and Allamakee Counties have been raising questions about the potential long-term impacts of the “frac sand” mining industry.
Kline says fracking has swept through Wisconsin in recent years and it could hurt that state’s economy. “Several studies in Wisconsin have shown the costs associated with frac sand mining may exceed the benefits when comparing other economic activities,” Kline said. Osterberg is urging state lawmakers to avoid placing limits on local regulation of frac sand mining. “What we worry about a little bit and one of the reasons for this report is we don’t want to have the state coming in…and taking away local control. The locals have shown they’re really being responsible in how they’re address this,” Osterberg said.
Trout fishing enthusiasts should be worried, according to Osterberg, as should “anyone who drinks water” in the northeastern corner of Iowa. Silica sand mining has become a controversial issue in the area due to the abundance of high-quality sand there that’s wanted by oil mining operations. Officials in Allamakee and Winneshiek Counties have imposed moratoria on new frac sand mining operations to give themselves time to study the issue.
Osterberg worries state officials are going to interfere. “The history of Iowa has been to take away local control when it comes to hog lots, for instance, or with gun or tobacco legislation,” Osterberg said. “We have a long history of taking away people’s rights at the county level.” There’s currently just one major frac sand mine in Iowa. It’s located in Clayton County.
Potential impacts from frac sand mining cited by the researchers include:
- Declining water quantity, in some areas, due to industry uses of water or mining beneath the water table, affecting groundwater flows, wells and streams, and rising water temperatures in cold-water trout streams that make the region a big draw for anglers.
- Water quality issues, if protection of water resources is not incorporated into the development and maintenance of mining sites, and protections actually enforced. Effects may include pond overflow, site runoff and chemicals reaching water sources.
- Harm to tourism in Iowa’s “Bluff Country” as the degrading of water resources could affect the livelihoods of those who depend on tourism associated with water and natural amenities.