Mining

Mining is not just part of Wisconsin’s history — the industry continues to operate mines throughout the state today. In recent years, demand for Wisconsin’s mineral resources has jumped dramatically.

This jump in demand includes increased interest in low-grade iron (or “taconite”) resources, with a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin causing controversy the past few years. There has also been a new and major demand for a type of sand called “frac sand,” with land speculation and large-scale operations popping up across the state.

If these mines aren’t designed and run properly, they can result in large-scale environmental problems. This includes threats to water quality, increases in polluted runoff, land displacement and deforestation, and other impacts. Air and water pollution from mining operations also have the potential to create local and regional health issues.

Key Points

  • Frac sand mining in Wisconsin has increased over tenfold in the last two years from only five frac sand mines and five processing facilities to over 63 mines and 36 processing facilities in January of 2012.[1]
  • Wisconsin has $2.3 billion fishing industry, and over 300,000 jobs in tourism, which could be affected by environmental impacts associated with mining.[2] [3]
  • Mining operations can lead to deforestation, erosion, sedimentation, toxic acid mine drainage, and groundwater and surface water pollution in Wisconsin, as well as threatening over 72 rare and endangered species, like the endangered Karner Blue butterfly.[4]
  • There can be many health concerns around mining. For example, air emissions from taconite plants are the largest source of mercury in the Lake Superior basin.[5] Frac sand mining also releases particulates such as crystalline silica, a carcinogen known to cause lung cancer.[6]
Clean Wisconsin's Work

Clean Wisconsin closely monitors environmental and health issues in our state, including those related to mining operations. Recently, our organization joined others in strongly opposing changes in mining legislation that would restrict environmental and health protections and eliminate the participation of local communities in decision-making. We are strongly committed to advocating for the health and safety of our local environment and communities of Wisconsin. We continue to work to defend and strengthen state mining laws that are designed to protect our people and our environment.

Related Topic Pages

Frac Sand Mining
Frac sand, used in hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas, has both environmental and health concerns. These include threats to groundwater quality and the release of carcinogenic crystalline silica into the air. Recently, demand for frac sand has drastically increased, growing the industry. Whereas two years ago Wisconsin had only five frac sand mines and five processing facilities, as of January 2012, it had over 63 mines and 36 processing facilities, and counting. As a result of this rapid expansion, oversight of the industry is unable to keep up and frac sand mining remains largely unregulated and uncontrolled by governmental and oversight parties.

Gogebic Taconite Mine
The Gogebic Taconite company owns a 22-mile strip of land in the Penokee Mountain Range in Ashland and Iron Counties.  A proposed mining operation by this company has raised a variety of social, environmental, health and economic concerns, including the potential for deforestation, erosion, sedimentation, acid mine drainage and the industrial development of a previously pristine wilderness area. 

Iron Mining Legislation
In 2013, a new law was enacted that changed the framework for reviewing and permitting proposed iron mines in Wisconsin. In addition to altering the environmental review and permit approval processes, it also relaxed environmental regulations, reduced public input and decreased accountability for mining corporations in the state.

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Please cite this resource as: Clean Wisconsin, Inc. “Mining.” Clean Wisconsin Enviropedia. Retrieved from www.cleanwisconsin.org/enviropedia.