Mining for sand. That doesn't sound so bad or sinister, right? Most agree, except when it is done at the scale our neighbors in Wisconsin are currently enduring. Frac sand mining sites as large as 200 acres combined with washing/processing and rail loading have completely turned quiet rural Wisconsin into a silica dust cloud, trucking it's hills away forever. Just a few years ago, there were only 5 frac sand mines in Wisconsin, and there are now over 130, with applications for more permits piled up on the desks of municipal governments. Stories of corporate bullying, buy-offs, gag orders, and more are all too common amongst landowners and local citizens in Wisconsin communities that have been inundated by the sand rush. Now, these corporations are pushing the Wisconsin state legislature to adopt legislation banning local communities from making their own laws. This is a serious assault on democracy!
The global push for energy is on, meaning they are coming for our sand. The two most populous countries are industrializing and as a result they are experiencing huge increases in energy consumption. Oil supplies are waning, and with the global population expected to reach 9 billion this century, fracking is increasingly being pushed as a viable alternative. There are millions of frackable oil and gas wells worldwide, and it's estimated that 60% of new oil and gas wells are being fracked. Since wells can be fracked multiple times, it is possible to use up to a million pounds of sand per well. China and the US have the largest amounts of recoverable frackable hydrocarbons, and both countries have pledged and are planning to increase fracking. Here in the US, the Obama administration has pledged to create 600,000 jobs in the gas industry, despite studies showing that we could create millions of jobs in the renewable energy sector. China is currently working with Shell to construct what to date would be their largest foreign investment project, a petrochemical plant to facilitate the extraction and processing of hydrocarbons.
I'm sure there are many people who think, 'okay, we will just keep them out, this is a democracy after all.' If only it were that easy. Unfortunately, legal precedent has been set and reinforced hundreds of times to allow state and federal laws to preempt local law. What does this mean? In essence, if a company successfully submits a permit for a legally allowable use (which sand mining is), current law does not recognize our authority to stop it from happening, regardless if 100% of the community opposes such uses. That is just the tip of the iceberg. Corporations actually sue municipal governments for interfering with their 'right' to make a future profit, regardless of the environmental damages and community opposition. The system is rigged to allow corporations to come into communities and exploit them for their resources while leaving communities with virtually no authority to protect themselves.
Our state and federal constitutions both state that 'All power is inherent in the people.' Let's take that power back. Let's no longer be subservient to corporations, and once again make them work for the public good. It is after all our responsibility to protect the environment for generations to come. A Community Rights based ordinance will give our community the ability to do just that.