Following is a general overview of the sand mining issue as of December 15, 2010. We will continue to add links regarding the specific mining sites that are proposed, the issues we face and the permitting process. There will be opportunities for public comments and we will let you know when and how you can comment, along with “talking points” that we think are important. A representative of FNFWR has been appearing at most Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission (PCEC) meetings this year to inform and update the Commission about the sand mining issue. We have been working closely with ADEQ as well.
Large open quarry frac sand mining operations are developing in Izard and several nearby counties. Izard County borders the White River from Calico Rock to below Guion and its tributaries are one of the main sources of cold water to the White River, essential to trout in this area. Like hydraulic frac mining itself, the State of Arkansas and our counties are NOT prepared to evaluate and manage the risks we face when companies with limited liability for their owners plan to remove the tops of our Ozark Hills and use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day from aquifers, wells or springs. (Here’s an animation of horizontal drilling (fracing) that shows how the sand is used.) Why is sand mining suddenly an issue in Izard County? The silica sand in Izard and surrounding counties is a scarce and very valuable commodity because it is used in oil and gas wells to enlarge openings to facilitate recovery of these resources. . It “props” open the cracks in the shale and is known as a proppant. The Fayetteville Shale development is south of our area.
Ten percent of Izard County has potentially minable sand, running in a band from Guion to Calico Rock. As of December 2010 there are three large sand mining operations (existing or planned) in Izard County and two in Independence County. An additional new sand mining operation near Calico Rock (Lonestar) was announced at the January 2010 Calico Rock City Council meeting, but we do not have information on their current plans.
Unimin Corporation in Guion is shifting production efforts to frac sand. One article in Reuters suggests they are increasing production by 700%. Unimin says they are basically shifting production to frac sand, but production will increase as well. Most of Unimin's operations are underground, but they also have a quarry. FNFWR is actively meeting with Unimin for the purpose of creating a working partnership around issues of common concern. Our current focus is a project to stabilize and re-vegetate the banks of the White River adjacent to the plant.
Bluebird Sand, LLC near Mount Pleasant has been operating on and off for more than a year. It recently discharged a significant amount of process water (sludge) into E. Lafferty Creek or Little Lafferty, a tributary of the White River, according to ADEQ Inspection reports. ADEQ just filed an action in Circuit Court of Izard County asking that operations be halted and Bluebird be required to obtain a discharge permit before proceeding. Details can be found at a site we have devoted to information about Bluebird.
Evergreen Processing, LLC near Calico Rock has applied for and received a stormwater permit on 200 plus acres, an open quarry mining permit and an air permit. Their “Twin Mountain” quarry is essentially mountain top removal and operations will go on 24/7 running 70 truck loads a day. Evergreen is currently considering a spring as the source for process water. They have applied for an NPDES discharge permit for their sediment ponds and the hearing on that issue will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, January 25, 2011, at Calico Rock City Hall, 265 Second Street, Calico Rock to accept comments on a draft permit for construction and operation of the process water retention pond.
FNFWR has not taken an official position on these proposed developments, but they unquestionably will have a severe negative impact on the areas mined. (Check out the song Twin Mountain) From a water perspective, we have significant concerns with unresolved issues regarding aquifer draw downs, sources of water and wastewater discharges into creeks and streams. If large numbers of sand mines are established, how will that affect the fundamental character of the area? An additional concern is the fact that all of the sand mining/quarry operations in Izard County have a history of violations of state and federal water laws. Inspection and monitoring are inadequate unless “complaint driven” by citizens reports. By that time, the damage is done. Unless the consequences are sufficient to deter potential offenders and inspire compliance on the front end, why should the new sand mines/quarries bother to follow the rules? Our strategy is to advocate compliance with existing laws but work with agencies and companies who want to “do the right thing” because it’s the right thing to do.
Some areas of specific concern are listed below. Information in the links was provided as part of the February 2010 Izard County Quorum Court presentation (see the overview of the presentation here). The Quorum Court took no action on a request of local citizens that they independently review the risks and rewards and require that concerns be addressed before mining commences. We believe that Counties have the authority and responsibility to protect our streams and people's property and will continue to work with elected officials regarding reasonable approaches that are supported by local folks.
- Water – depletion of the aquifer - More information here
- Water – discharge of waste water into creeks - More information here
- Risks to fish and wildlife habitat
- Possible additional erosion of streambanks from non-normal wastewater discharges and higher stormwater runoffs from cleared lands into creeks
- Air – dangers of silica dust causing silicosis - More information here
- Truck traffic – More information here
- Tourism and Economic Impacts - More information here
- Risks to workers
- Reclamation/Restoration after mining - More information here
- Noise and light
- Property Values - More information here
- Arkansas National Resources Commission Sand Mining Report for Izard County - here