A proposed silica sand mine just outside of northern Illinois’ Starved Rock State Park has been approved by Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) despite objections from conservation organizations and people throughout the State of Illinois. Several organizations filed a Circuit Court complaint alleging that the IDNR did not meet legal requirements before approving the mine.
The approval, granted by IDNR’s Office of Mines and Minerals, makes way for an open pit mine just outside of Starved Rock State Park from which silica sand will be harvested and processed. The permit gives Mississippi Sand LLC the go-ahead to blast in an 80-acre area for ten years, sending harmful silica dust into the air. The mined sand is destined for use in the controversial hydraulic fracturing process, or fracking, used to extract natural gas.
The legal complaint—filed in December by the Sierra Club, Prairie Rivers Network, and Openlands—asserts that IDNR’s Office of Mines and Minerals failed to follow its own regulations and state law in approving the sand mine. The complaint alleges that the Office of Mines and Minerals didn’t adequately consider required key factors, including the mine’s effects on vegetation, wildlife, land values, local tax base, air and water pollution, soil contamination and drainage. In addition, a proper natural areas consultation was not performed. As a result of these and other omissions, the decision by the Office of Mines and Minerals to issue the mine’s permit was uninformed and capricious.
Concerns about the mine include risks to human health, specifically hazards caused by exposure to particulates and silica. Studies, including a 1995 study by the American Cancer Society, have found that increases in air-borne silica particles are associated with an increased risk of death from all natural causes, including cardiovascular disease and lung cancer.
In addition, the mine threatens the ecology and beauty of Starved Rock State Park. Operations are expected to pump million of gallons of water each day into Horseshoe Creek, which runs through Starved Rock. Horseshoe Creek’s ecology, which is adapted to low water flow, is likely to be damaged by pumping so much water into it.
Starved Rock State Park, about 1.5 hours southwest of Chicago, is one of Illinois’ most important recreational areas, visited by more than two million people each year.