University receives grant focusing on mining industry - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

University receives grant focusing on mining industry

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Eau Claire County (WQOW) - Education is the spice of life and it may also help bridge the gap as a controversial industry grows.  UW-Eau Claire has received a $451,000 grant and the focus is on the mining industry.

As frac sand mining has grown, so have the questions about the impact it could have on the environment.

The grant is from the UW-System.  It's an economic development incentive grant, called the "Responsible Mining Initiative."  The purpose is to create internships in and surrounding the mining industry. 

Dr Kent Syverson, the Professor and Chair of the Department of Geology, at UW-Eau Claire, says,"I think most Wisconsin taxpayers would consider mining to be a relevant topic."

With dozens and dozens of frac sand mines popping up in western Wisconsin the past few years, there's no denying it's become a part of our culture.

Syverson says, "Mining has impacts and our goal is to try to make sure that whatever mining might go on, it's going to have minimal impacts on the environment."

By the end of the year, Five Star Properties in Bridge Creek will be fully operational.  It's the second sand mine to call Eau Claire County home.

Five Star Properties Operations Manager, Troy Morey, says, "We're strictly selling industrial raw material."

That sand will be trucked to a loading facility in Chippewa Falls. Unlike other facilities, Five Star will not have a processing plant. Morey also says their sand won't strictly be used for fracking.

He says, "Sand can be used, as everybody knows, as a fracturing material for frac sand, it can also be used as glass, tires."

And with one 110 acres of land to mine, it's an 8 to 10-year process.

Morey says, "The industry goes so much further than just what you see behind us, of piling sand up to sell, there's a logistics side of the business."

A fact UW-Eau Claire is incorporating into its geology program. "We had one student who had an internship with Fairmount Minerals in Menomonie this past summer and he made very good money and then he was actually hired on with Fairmount to a permanent position," says Syverson.  

With the help of the $451,000 grant, the university hopes to create more internships.

Syverson says, "The biggest component of this grant is to pay faculty to spend the time to contact their professional networks and try to develop these internships."

Morey says, "So to see a university come full circle with it, that would educate people and embrace the industry, it's a real plus."

The internships would place students both in the mining and environmental consulting industries.

Syverson says, "We're not just developing this program so that's it's focused on mining because mining has ups and downs. But the environmental industry, it's growing at a much slower pace, but it's more constant."

Along with internships at mining companies, the grant money will also be used to make contact with environmental groups and the DNR. 

The university has also recently agreed to supply three more professors that would help staff the program.  The cost to add those professors is unrelated to the grant. Some of those courses would focus on things like the reclamation process, as well as air and groundwater studies.

The university says it has at least 13 graduates working in the sand mining industry right now.

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