July 17, 2014

Wisconsin frac sand facility operates wells without permit, faces $52,500 in fines

An Eau Claire County frac sand mining company was ordered to pay $52,500 for drilling and operating two high-capacity wells without a permit in 2012, according to a decision released last week.

The judgment filed by the state Department of Natural Resources says Hi-Crush Augusta LLC, based in Bridge Creek, about 30 miles southeast of Eau Claire, used the two wells for just over three months in 2012. The company operated one well without a meter.

Wisconsin currently has 125 permitted frac sand mining facilities, according to a Center count in May 2014. In all, 23 different companies have been cited for violations at the facilities since 2011, according to DNR records. Hi-Crush is the fourth company to negotiate a settlement of environmental fines with the agency; two more settlements are in progress

Houston-based Hi-Crush Proppants, the parent company of Hi-Crush Augusta LLC, has three locations in Wisconsin, including the mining and processing plant in Bridge Creek.

According to a complaint filed in June of this year, Hi-Crush applied to the state DNR to drill two high-capacity wells in January 2012, but actually drilled four wells.

Deb Dix, an industrial sand mining specialist with the DNR, said the agency realized the additional wells existed after the driller, Thein Well Company, requested the well identification numbers from the department for its own records. The DNR soon began an investigation.

The state Department of Justice has also ordered Thein to pay $16,000 in fines for drilling without a permit.

Dix said is still unclear whether Thein realized the wells were not permitted.

“We weren’t able to really figure out what went on. There were multiple players, and we could never figure out where the miscommunication was,” Dix said.

The Center’s requests for comment to both Hi-Crush Augusta and Thein Well Company went unanswered.

As soon as the DNR began investigating, Dix said, Hi-Crush shut down three of the four wells.

Since then, the company has installed additional measuring equipment and has, according to Dix, the “best groundwater monitoring system” in the state.

Both Hi-Crush and Thein must pay the fines by Aug. 1. Department of Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck said this is the first judgment DNR has brought to the department involving Hi-Crush. The company has no other violations on record.