It’s not easy being sand these days–or a riverbed or prairie land or a forest. That’s because new oil-sand processing and natural-gas fracking facilities are popping up like weeds in Canada and the Midwest, resulting in destruction of the land and ongoing environmental issues.

Tar-sand processing has become such a controversial issue its placed Canada square in the face of serious international criticism for under-reporting its carbon emissions from tar sands facilities, which also happen to be the fastest-growing polluter in the country. And this Friday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune had an excellent introduction on the increase of hydro fracking, a process by which natural gas is extracted from silica sand.

Josephine Marcotty writes:

Energy and mining companies are buying and leasing large tracts of land from Black River Falls, Wis., to Red Wing, Minn., and south along the Mississippi. Sand pits, processing facilities and transportation hubs seem to be opening monthly.

It’s an economic boon for some small towns — a chance to share in the wealth generated by the domestic production of energy. But it is extracting a price from the land, and many people who live and work near the open sand pits fear for their drinking water, streams and health. Silica sand dust causes a number of lung diseases, including cancer.

She also notes that one executive looking to extract sand for gas production told investors that his company had access to more than 20 million tons of sand reserves in Minnesota. In other words, seven Metrodomes of sand would be removed from Minnesota’s natural prairies and forests, leaving behind swaths of barren land and environmental hazards, including contamination of water tables.

Locals in Wisconsin and Minnesota are crying foul over the increase in fracking. Citizens groups have formed, creating petitions and trying to halt new projects. But they have an uphill battle, as industry leaders become closely intertwined with government officials.

This evening, a Department of Energy hearing on fracking takes place in Pennsylvania, where fracking has increased at an alarming rate. However, pro-industry leaders are already coming out swinging, offering to pay transportation costs to supporters.

Still, despite industry best efforts to quell its detractors, public concern over fracking is growing. And for good reason. Earlier today Food and Water Watch released a report outlining the serious health and environmental issues that result from fracking. The findings include:

  • Toxic chemicals present in fracking fluid could cause cancer and other health problems.
  • Fracking wastewater contains high levels of radioactivity and other contaminants that wastewater treatment plants have had difficulty removing; this potentially contaminated wastewater can then be discharged into local rivers.
  • In Pennsylvania, more than 3,000 gas fracking wells and permitted well sites are located within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools and nine hospitals.

The organization recommends banning shale gas fracking in the United States. And if it happens, New Jersey might lead the way. New Jersey legislators have joined forces with Food and Water Watch and the Sierra Club to call for a ban in that state. So far, only 55 municipalities have called for a ban on fracking. And so far, none of the those municipalities are in Wisconsin and Minnesota, where plans to increase fracking only continue.

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