A Dorchester man is hitting the road this week to highlight the perils of frac-sand mining.
Jeff Abbas, an environmental activist, nature photographer and food producer, who runs Kitchen Table CSA (community supported agriculture) with his wife, Mary, is on a trek from his home in rural Dorchester to Dubuque, via the Great River Road.
He will speak about the damage caused by frac-sand mining at two Dubuque forums: Saturday, July 27, at 6 p.m. at Hope House and Sunday, July 28, at 1 p.m. at the Catholic Worker Farm.
Abbas is president of the Allamakee County Protectors (ACP), a group of concerned Iowans leading the fight against frac-sand mining in the state of Iowa. Originally, ACP started as a group from Allamakee County, but the issue became statewide quickly.
The group was instrumental in the passage of an 18-month moratorium on frac-sand mining in Allamakee County.
Winneshiek County followed shortly, with its own 18-month moratorium. Since that time, Protector organizations in both counties have been in contact with the departments of occupational and environmental health at both the University of Iowa and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Winneshiek County recently endorsed a grant application for both universities to work together on a study about the public health impacts of frac-sand mining.
Fracking vs. frac-sand
Frac sand is being mined for use in the process of "fracking," short for hydraulic fracturing, which refers to a 75-year-old technique used to release petroleum, natural gas (including shale gas, tight gas and coal seam gas) or other substances for extraction. Fractures are created after a hole is drilled into reservoir rock formations.
Frac sand, or silica, is quartz sand of a certain size and shape that is suspended in fluid and injected into oil and gas wells under high pressure. The fluid pressure opens and enlarges fractures as well as creates new ones. Sand grains are carried into these fractures and prop them open after the fluid is pumped out.
Part and parcel
Abbas and fellow ACP Board Member Robert Nehman attended the national summit "Stop the Frack Attack" in Dallas, Texas last September.
"We had the opportunity to see firsthand how fracking has adversely affected the Dallas - Fort Worth area. We met many nationally known activists, including several of the people from Josh Fox's films 'Gasland' and 'Gasland 2.' This was our first opportunity to bring concerns about sand mining to the national stage. Because of our involvement, people are under
standing that fracking and frac-sand mining are part and parcel to one another," said Abbas.
Abbas recently has been invited to be keynote speaker at a number of conferences, including the Iowa Prairie Conference last week at Luther College.
On his journey to Dubuque, he plans to spread his message about frac-sand mining and the damage it will cause if it continues.
"Both fracking and frac-sand mining are not only destructive, the damage they do is permanent," he said.
An avid hiker, Abbas recently walked 48 miles of the Appalachian Trail within the confines of Smoky Mountain National Park. This year, he had planned a backpack trip to the Teddy Roosevelt Wilderness in Medora, N.D., but said he was dealt the ultimate blow when he found out his chosen route was "off limits."
"I received notice that the route was closed because they are fracking inside the national park," said Abbas.
A small setback
Abbas left Dorchester Saturday, July 20, with plans to stop in New Albin, Lansing, Harpers Ferry, Marquette and Guttenberg on his way to Dubuque.
He experienced a minor setback Sunday when a large blister he developed by walking on pavement, caused a delay in the journey.
Abbas returned home Sunday to tend his blistered foot. During an interview Monday, he said, "I am going to pick up the hike again tomorrow morning but not carry the backpack. I'll carry a smaller daypack with water, etc. and Mary will be my support caravan. I don't care if I have to wrap my foot in 121 layers of moleskin. I'm continuing this thing no matter what."
Abbas said traveling the Great River Road will give him "the opportunity to see the smaller communities and photograph the things that are intrinsically beautiful to the Driftless Area and Northeast Iowa."
Abbas also said he will be taking the "cutoff" before Guttenberg to travel past the Pattison Sand Mine.
"I'm going to walk by and get some pictures of the destruction they're doing," he said.
Abbas encourages anyone with questions about fracking or frac-sand mining to stop and talk to him along his route.
He'll also be blogging his entire trip at walkingforourrights.blogspot.com, which will include a daily journal about his travels.
When asked why he feels so strongly about the issue, he replied simply, "We have no choice."
"I do it out of pure love for what this area has to offer in its form of wilderness, recreation, beautiful scenery and the rural life that is so rapidly disappearing around this country," he said.
For more information about efforts to stop frac-sand mining, visit allamakeecountyprotectors.com.