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Key Wisconsin county in frac sand debate bans new mining for 1 year

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A Wisconsin county on the Minnesota border that has been ground zero in the debate over frac sand mining has put a one-year moratorium on any new applications for silica sand mining, and on operations that are looking to expand, the La Crosse Tribune reports.

The Trempealeau County Board approved the ban Monday night. The county has issued more frac sand mining permits than any other county in Minnesota or Wisconsin in the last 36 months, the Star Tribune notes.

The Trempealeau panel resolution creates a committee that would collect and analyze information in order to make recommendations on whether sand mining truly affects public health and safety, the La Crosse newspaper reports. Studies on ground water, surface water, air quality, radioactivity, radon release, light pollution and sound pollution are planned, the newspaper reports.

The moratorium gives the county “a chance to catch our breath,” Supervisor Sally Miller said, WSAU reported.

The move comes amid a broader debate about the effects that the growing silica sand mining industry has on the environment and human health. The sand is a key ingredient in the process of hydraulic fracturing, which relies on high-powered water-and-sand blasting to free oil and natural gas from rock deep below the surface.

Industry proponents say frac sand mining is safe and creates jobs – and allows access to hard-to-get fuels. Opponents say there are too many unanswered questions.

The state of Minnesota recently unveiled a new frac sand mining website. Here's more info about the debate collected by MPR, and a number of recent stories. Propublica put together an infographic on how fracing is done.

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