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DNR official overseeing frac-sand mining resigns

Sand mining
Sand mining

EAU CLAIRE, WI (WTAQ) - A state official who has overseen the massive growth in Wisconsin’s frac-sand industry is resigning this week.

60-year-old Tom Woletz of Eau Claire tells the Minneapolis Star-Tribune he’ll semi-retire in Montana, where his family owns an older cabin near Yellowstone National Park.

He says he’s not being hired away by the frac-sand industry.

Woletz joined the state DNR in 1975. In 2011, the senior manager took charge of enforcing state laws on frac-sand – the relatively new phenomenon of digging for silica sand that’s used by the oil and gas industry to lubricate drilling equipment.

Under Woletz, Wisconsin has developed 105 frac-sand mines – the most in the nation – plus 65 processing sites. He said officials have been waiting for the growth to level off, but there’s been no slowdown in new mining applications.

Recently, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said the frac-sand industry gave over $400,000 to political campaigns last year, compared to just $18,000 five years earlier.

Woletz denies that the money bought special favors, or escaping prosecution for violating state rules. He said it’s true that no frac-sand company has been taken to court by the state – but several cases are pending in the Justice Department.

Woletz said Wisconsin has good frac-sand mining regulations, but the DNR could use more staff to ensure compliance.

The agency wanted 10 extra air quality inspectors in the new state budget. It appears they’ll get two.

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