Current Issue

Sticking Our Heads in the Sand

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Fracking requires up to4 million pounds of silica sand per well. Massive amounts are required to retrieve natural gas from shale formations and the demand is increasing.

The sand is an essential ingredient in the fracking cocktail and functions by propping up the fractured shale crevices while allowing gas to escape.Now we see the gas boom and sand mining are moving in tandem. They add to the growing list of environmental and health problems some people would rather ignore. Places throughout the country, not thought to have a natural gas connection, are being swept into the development frenzy in order to exploit this natural resource. In similar fashion to gas well construction, counties and states are not adequately prepared to oversee this activity. As drought conditions increase, water requirements for sand production add to the aquifer draw downs.

Ten percent of Izard County, near Calico Rock and parts of Independence County, have the type of silica sand that is particularly desirable for fracking. This is the same area where water resources support tourism and recreation, creating a sustainable economic base. Siltation from mining and heavy road traffic is impacting water quality and healthy conditions for trout populations. In 2010 a discharge of sand processing sludge was released without a permit.

This buried sections of Lafferty Creek, which feeds into the White River, resulting in a $125,000 fine. Even though permitting has now improved, problems of turbidity continue to degrade water quality. Human health concerns have increased where sand production,
transportation, and handling create
silica exposures contributing to
silicosis. This is an irreversible
disease with a well-know, welldocumented path to lung cancer.
Sand mining is a form of mountain
top removal. The soil overburden is
cleared so that the sand deposit can
be removed. Under the sand are sink
holes and karst formations that need
the sand layer as a filter to prevent
storm runoff and pollutants from
moving rapidly through the porous
strata. Concern for the loss of Twin
Mountain in Izard County inspired
songwriter, Charley Sandage, to
write a lament. (friendsoftherivers.
org/twin_Mountain.html)
How ironic that this valuable
crystalline filter material is a key
constituent in a poison delivery
system.

Nature provides her filter.
Ground to a useful fineness and
roundness,
Living for centuries on ocean floors
only to find itself uplifted by rising
mountains,
Or reduced to a perfect grit by
glaciers and cascading rivers,
The sand stands ready to strip away
impurities,
Freeing water from a polluted
condition for clean reuse.
And so it continues cycling over
and over, sometimes with glistening
sunlight
Joining in for a playful tumble that
will assure health and life.

Now this icon of simple abundance is pressed into a new task.

With bomb-like force it is exploded into strata made dense by heat and pressure.

But rather than throwing off pollutants as done in the past, or providing the material on which civilizations will build, It travels in consort with poisons to serve man’s greed. Like a sentry staged at an open door in a priceless heist, it holds the path ready.Toxins enter setting free long imprisoned dangers.

The gases escape with some of the poison.

But having served its single purpose the sand is left behind,Never again to see the sun and losing its place in an eternal lifegiving cycle.

How perverse.

How far from its true calling.

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