New frac sand study unveiled - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

New frac sand study unveiled

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Bloomer (WQOW)- There's new voice in the debate and dissection of frac sand in western Wisconsin and it comes from Montana.  An economics professor from the University of Montana was called on to study the economic benefits and costs of the frac sand industry.  The Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Farmers Union were among those who requested the study.

"If we don't know, don't leap," says Dr. Thomas Power, a professor at the University of Montana.

That's the message Dr. Power wants to send to communities considering opening their doors to frac sand mining.

"There is this conflict between what we know the benefits are, high wages, wealth being brought out of the ground, increased revenues flowing to local governments," Dr. Power admits.  "But also if we know anything about our own history of mining in Wisconsin, we know that there are significant costs that have hurt communities."

The study, released Wednesday in Bloomer, suggests the economic impact may not be as good as advertised, especially if the workers make long commutes each day to the mine or plant. 

John Behling, who represents about a dozen frac-sand companies in the area, disagrees and points to Hi-Crush as an example.

"They invested more than $100 million locally into the economy," Behling points out.  "Had the person who'd done the story met with miners in Augusta, met with miners in Chippewa Falls, met with miners in Trempealeau County, they would have walked away with a different report."

The report also publishes a series of questions for communities to consider ahead of time:  including can unemployed residents fill some of the available jobs and how big of a footprint on the environment will the mine leave behind?

"These folks put a lot of time into studying the geology and they are mining here rather than there for a reason," Dr. Power explains.  "If the costs are higher than the benefits, they don't do it.  They leave the sand in place.  Communities should do the same thing."

"Only a municipality can make the decision as to how much research is necessary," counters Behling.  "When people get a report like this, rather than jump to conclusions, they have to read it and they have to because clearly there have been other reports done by more local professors from the UW-System that paint a different picture than the one that's painted by the consultant from nine states away."

"It's true.  We don't have data.  The government doesn't collect data yet.  The industry is too young," relents Dr. Power.  "But we certainly know what questions to ask and then we can judge how much confidence we have in the answers."

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