South Dakota misses out on another chance to cash in on the North Dakota oil boom. The state has determined that sand in the Black Hills is not suitable for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process driving America's current oil boom.

The ideal "proppant" for fracking is and composed of over 99% quartz grains. DENR says our sand isn't quartzy enough to help drill, baby:

All of the samples failed to meet American Petroleum Institute recommended weight distribution specifications for natural proppants. Many samples collected from Tertiary- to Quaternary-age geologic units (White River Group, Arikaree Group, Ogallala Group, glacial outwash, terrace deposits, Sand Hills Formation, and alluvial deposits) have well-rounded and spherical grains, but most contain a significant amount of minerals other than quartz. Most samples collected from Jurassic- and Cretaceous-age geologic units (Hulett Sandstone Member of the Sundance Formation, Unkpapa Sandstone, Lakota Formation, Fall River Sandstone, and Fox Hills Sandstone), contain a significant amount of minerals other than quartz and/or contain angular and elongated grains. Samples collected from the Cambrian-Ordovician-age Deadwood Formation and Pennsylvanian-Permian-age Minnelusa Formation were determined (1) to be too fine-grained, (2) to be too hard due to carbonate or silica cement, (3) to contain angular and elongated grains, (4) to have significant iron staining, or (5) to contain a significant amount of minerals other than quartz.

None of the sand in South Dakota could likely be mined solely as hydraulic fracturing sand. In order to fully utilize a sand deposit and extract a marketable volume of sand from these sources, significant volumes of coarser or finer material would have to have a market as well. If there is demand for other uses, then the sand may be economical to mine. Deficiencies found in samples collected for this study included not being comprised of greater than 99 percent quartz, being too coarse or fine grained, having sand grains that are not the correct shape or having sand grains that are tightly cemented together [SD DENR, "Assessment of South Dakota's Sand and Alumina Resources for Use as Proppant," released March 2014].

Looks like the folks who bought sand-mining claims in the Black Hills will have to look into swim-beach maintenance.

The study also finds we lack the bauxite and kaolinite that would allow us to cash in on manufacturing ceramic proppant for fracking in the Bakken and elsewhere. But on the bright side...

“DENR undertook this study at the request of the 2012 Legislative Oil and Gas Summer Study Committee that was looking for ways to benefit from the North Dakota oil boom,” said DENR Secretary Steve Pirner. “While the study did not produce the desired results, DENR’s geologists gained a better understanding of sand resources in western South Dakota and that may prove useful in the future” [DENR, 2014.03.27].

Ah, knowledge.

Our sand won't frack—I feel a new state motto coming on....


E pur se muove—e pur se evolve!

Dr. Bill Harris charges into the public square to run interference for Senator Jeff Monroe's battle to teach insecure superstition in the public schools. Senator Monroe (R-24/Pierre) introduced Senate Bill 112 with the intent of wedging our K-12 school doors open for the teaching of creationism. When he realized his sloppily written bill would allow secular teachers like me to say whatever they wanted about creationism (like that it's bunk!) in any classroom at any time, he withdrew the bill. (For a guy who advocates intelligent design, Senator Monroe has a hard time doing any paperwork intelligently.)

To serve the superstitionists, Dr. Harris plays Orwellian opposites:

  1. Dr. Harris contends that the philosophical supposition that complexity and mind can only spring from mind constitutes real science. The Union of Concerned Scientists disagrees: appealing to an unprovable supernatural being to explain earthly events is the opposite of science.
  2. Dr. Harris contends that atheism (because that's what's really at stake when people spout intelligent design, winning God's favor by whacking us heretics) is just another religion. Atheism is not a religion. Atheism the opposite of religion. Claiming that atheism is a religion is like claiming that health is a disease.

Dr. Harris butters his crap sandwich with ad hominem disguised as intelligent word analysis:

Evolution is another very slippery term. It can range from the completely uncontroversial belief that life has changed over time, to the highly controversial position that the mechanism responsible for this change was completely mindless, natural selection acting on random genetic variation (neo-Darwinism). The latter is what “free thinkers” actually mean when they promote teaching evolution, but the former is how they represent it to the unsuspecting public [Dr. Bill Harris, "Intelligent Design and Evolution—Science or Religion?" that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.02.05].

It's not enough to scientifically refute evolution (because he can't); Harris imputes falsehood and sneakiness to "free thinkers," who must be up to something and thus cannot be trusted. I don't hear scientists cloaking evolution in vague terms in an effort to wedge children's brains open to atheism. I can explain evolution in entirely materialistic terms. I can say that molecules come together following not randomly, dang it, but governed by explicable physical and chemical laws. And when the kid at the front of the class wearing the Michael W. Smith (he's still a thing, right?) says, "But Mr. H., does evolution mean there is no God?" I can respond with complete intellectual integrity, "No, it doesn't."

The factually supported possibility that you and I and all biota arose from natural selection and genetic variation challenges the existence of God no more than did Galileo's discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter.

Teaching real science (Copernican astronomy and evolution) does not, as Harris pretends, promote or denigrate any religious point of view, except maybe the flimsy faith of simpletons who would abandon their fantasy God before a simple demonstration of Brownian motion. Galileo, Darwin, and Pope Francis can all be right.

Terra muove. Vita cambia. E pur Dio esiste.


I told you that Senate Bills 101 and 112, Senator Jeff Monroe's silly proposals to let teachers spout off whatever random commentary they wish in their classrooms (or anyone else's) about fetuses and creationism, were poorly written legislation.

Even Senator Monroe himself agrees. On Thursday, he put his legislative tail between his legs and withdrew SB 101 and SB 112. From KCCR (which doesn't archive stories for permanent linkage, dang it!):

Saying there was too much confusion about the intent of the legislation, state Senator Jeff Monroe of Pierre Thursday withdrew bills dealing with the instruction of intelligent design and allowing teachers to provide instruction on "personhood before birth."

Both bills were withdrawn Thursday morning before being heard by the Senate Education Committee ["Monroe Pulls Bills on Intelligent Design, Personhood," KCCR Radio, 2014.02.06].

Chet Brokaw get a little more detail from Senator Monroe admitting that the Madville Times was right:

The measure's main sponsor, Sen. Jeff Monroe, R- Pierre, said he had to scrap the bill because it was badly written but didn't elaborate. He said supporters from across the nation have said there are far better ways to address the issue, but he declined to say what he might do in the future.

"I don't mind a good fight, but the amount of good that would have come from the bill would have been outweighed by all the misconceptions people have had," Monroe said. "I didn't want to put the people in that committee in a tight sport. Some agreed with the bill, but they would have had to vote against it, based on the fact it was written poorly" [Chet Brokaw, "South Dakota Bill Allowing Teachers to Discuss Intelligent Design Killed at Sponsor's Request," AP, 2014.02.06].

Senator Monroe tells KCCR that he talked to "think tanks" around the country. It doesn't take a think tank to recognize a bad idea, Senator.

Senator Monroe tells KCCR he won't bring these topics up again in this year's session, but he will look for other forums in which to promote his anti-woman, anti-science agenda. Looks like this blog will stay in business for quiet some time....


Senator Dan Lederman says that his Senate Bill 75, to prohibit dog breed-specific local ordinances, will prevent "media hysteria" from driving "feel-good, knee-jerk reactions" against adorable pit bulls.

Medical experts disagree:

Attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs. Strict regulation of pit bulls may substantially reduce the US mortality rates related to dog bites [J.K. Bini et al., abstract, "Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs," Annals of Surgery, April 2011].

It is not hysteria to note that certain breeds account for higher percentage of dog-bite injuries:

The objective of this study was to characterize the nature of dog bite injuries treated over a 5-year period at a large tertiary pediatric hospital and to identify relevant parameters for public education and injury prevention.

...More than 30 different offending breeds were documented in the medical records. The most common breeds included pit bull terriers (50.9 percent), Rottweilers (8.9 percent), and mixed breeds of the two aforementioned breeds (6 percent).

Pediatric dog bites are preventable injuries, yet they persist as a prevalent public health problem. Evaluation of data from high-volume tertiary pediatric health care institutions identifies predictable patterns of injury with respect to patient age and gender, animal breed, provocation, and seasonality [A.E. Kaye et al., abstract, "Pediatric Dog Bite Injuries: A 5-Year Review of the Experience at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia," Plastic Reconstructive Surgery, August 2009].

Senator Lederman must think the U.S. Army is hysterical. Fort Benning bans pit bulls. U.S. Army Garrison Policy Memorandum 08-10 declares pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans, chows, and wolf hybrids "aggressive or potentially aggressive" and bans those breeds unless they are certified military working dogs boarded by their trainers or handlers.

Senator Lederman is fighting to protect pit bulls from justifiable discrimination even as he advocates a marriage discrimination bill that imperils his own family members' civil rights (just imagine a Christian baker refusing to sell a wedding cake to Lederman's kids because the baker thinks the Bible tells him not to serve Jews). Senator Lederman is also fighting to deny local control to elected officials who would act on scientific evidence to reduce injuries to children from an identifiable risk.

Senator Lederman's ignorance and pandering to a manly-man constituency seems very Republican; Senator Lederman's attack on local control does not.

Update 10:50 CST: An eager reader reminds me that Dan Lederman used to love local control. Recall Lederman's defense of last year's school gunslinger bill:

Allow schools the ability to make their own decisions on how to best keep students safe, and give them the tools to do so at their discretion. Most won’t use it, and that’s up to them. If only one District chooses to exercise local control in this manner, then it was still the right decision [Dan Lederman, "Allow Local Control for School Safety - School Sentinel Bill," blog, 2013.02.22].

I'm also reminded that in December 2012, the Aberdeen City Council rejected a pit bull ban, even though their own study of local violent animal incidents showed pit bulls are responsible for a disproportionate number of serious dog attacks.


Rep. Don Kopp (R-35/Rapid City) plagiarizes sloppy science from The New American's Alex Newman. Compare Kopp's letter in Sunday's Rapid City Journal with Newman's writing from December 18:

Kopp, 2014.01.12 Newman, 2013.12.18
In 2007, Al Gore hysterically warned the world that the North Pole would be “ice-free” by the year 2013. Joining this song and dance with Gore, and citing “climate experts,” the government-funded BBC hyped the mass hysteria, along with other major media outlets with the dire warning: “Arctic summers ice-free by 2013.” In 2007, 2008 and 2009, Gore publicly and very hysterically warned that the North Pole would be “ice-free” by around 2013 because of alleged “man-made global warming.” Citing “climate” experts, the government-funded BBC hyped the mass hysteria, running a now-embarrassing article under the headline: “Arctic summers ice-free ‘by 2013’.” Other establishment media outlets did the same.
Well folks, 2013 has come and gone; as for arctic ice, it increased in size and mass by about 50 percent during 2013. In fact, it was the largest, single year increase in arctic ice since records have been kept. Well, 2013 is almost over, and contrary to the alarmist “predictions” by Gore and what critics refer to as his “doomsday cult,” the latest satellite data show that Arctic ice cover has actually expanded 50 percent over 2012 levels. In fact, during October, sea-ice levels grew at the fastest pace since records began in 1979.

Kopp's plagiarism is typical of the talk-radio karaoke that Kopp and his willfully slow-witted ilk embrace: Don't look deeply into an issue, just parrot the squawking that you think sounds so manly and patriotic between gold-coin and male-enhancement ads.

Alas for Kopp, he lies about his authorship and his science. Newman cites this BBC article, but ignores this better, bigger-picture science therefrom:

"Although the recovery of Arctic sea ice is certainly welcome news, it has to be considered against the backdrop of changes that have occurred over the last few decades," said Prof Andy Shepherd of University College London, UK.

"It's estimated that there were around 20,000 cu km of Arctic sea ice each October in the early 1980s, and so today's minimum still ranks among the lowest of the past 30 years," he told BBC News [Jonathan Amos, "ESA's Cryosat Sees Arctic Sea-Ice Volume Bounce Back," BBC, 2013.12.16].

Newman similarly ignores the hold-your-horses from the non-Cato Institute hack in this Daily Tech article. Newman and Kopp also ignore the date; Newman says it refers to this year's ice change rate, when in fact it refers to 2008:

Bill Chapman, a researcher with the Arctic Climate Center at the University of Illinois, says the rapid increase is "no big deal". He says that, while the Arctic has certainly been colder in recent months, the long-term decrease is still ongoing. Chapman, who predicts that sea ice will soon stop growing, sees nothing in the recent data to contradict predictions of global warming [Michael Asher, "Sea Ice Growing at Fastest Pace on Record," Daily Tech, 2008.11.07].

Kopp and Newman ignore other scientific observations that suggest sea ice cover does not indicate what they want to believe it indicates:

Moreover, the mere extent of sea ice does not necessarily say something about the volume of the ice, because that also depends on the thickness of the frozen layer. And the vast majority of the Antarctic ice mass is located on the Antarctic continent – and there the ice has decreased in recent years as a whole, particularly in West Antarctica.

But why the sea ice is increasing is a mystery. Scientists suspect that a change in the air currents could explain to a great extent the increase in Antarctic sea ice in recent decades. Other speculations are that ocean currents carry cooler surface water to the Antarctic or that the melting water, which flows through massive channels in the ice, decreases the temperature of the surface sea water [Anthony Watts, "NASA Announces New Record Growth of Sea Ice Extent," Watts Up with That?, 2013.10.22].

But hey, it's going to be 48°F in Rapid City today and 53°F on Wednesday. That's 10 to 15 degrees warmer than the average January temperature in Rapid. Must be global warming caused by Kopp's plagiarized hot air!


Most South Dakota counties and the Legislature hesitate to stand in the way of the total industrialization of the prairie with sensible drainage regulations. But if our leaders don't want to stand in the way of wetland extinction, perhaps they'll at least look at reducing the pollution impacts by requiring field tile drainage systems to include woodchip bioreactors. No, we're not burning pine trees for electricity; we're using wood chips to filter and breakdown pollutants from field drainage.

Excavation for woodchip bioreactor. Photo by SDSU Extension, 2013.

Excavation for woodchip bioreactor. Photo by SDSU Extension, 2013. (Click for SDSU Extension article and larger photos.)

South Dakota State University scientists are testing five bioreactors at demonstration sites near Baltic, Montrose, Arlington, Beresford, and Canton. A bioreactor is a long trench, maybe a couple hundred feet long and four to six feet deep. The trench can be as narrow as three feet deep, but the SDSU Extension test bioreactors appear to be a good twelve feet wide. The SDSU scientists lay plastic to hold water in the trench, then fill it with wood chips. The trench is re-covered with topsoil and reseeded.

The big result SDSU Extension highlights is a reduction of nitrates by 30 to 70 percent. Nitrates come from natural and synthetic fertilizers and make downstream lakes unlivable with explosive algae growth. The woodchips become home to bacteria that eat the carbon and breathe out the nitrogen, which escapes to the atmosphere instead into hungry algae at your favorite fishing hole.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture says bioreactors can support limited field operations and crop growth, minimizing the productivity impact.

So consider this, county commissioners and state legislators: if we can require factories to install smokestack scrubbers to protect air quality, how about we require farmers install bioreactors as drain tile scrubbers to protect water quality?


Knowing how much our food supply depends on chemicals bums me out. Using those chemicals to fight weeds may also bum out farmers, says new research from France:

[Harvard professor Marc] Weisskopf's group reports in the American Journal of Epidemiology that 83 farmers, about 15 percent, said they had been treated for depression. Forty-seven of them had never used pesticides, while 36 had.

Among the farmers without Parkinson's disease, 37 who had never used herbicides and 20 who had used the weedkillers reported being treated for depression.

There was no difference in the risk of having depression among the farmers who had used fungicides or insecticides, compared to those who hadn't used any pesticide.

But when the researchers took into account factors linked with depression, such as age and cigarette smoking, they determined that those farmers exposed to weedkillers were nearly two and a half times as likely to have had depression.

Furthermore, farmers who had greater exposure - either more hours or longer years using herbicides - also had a greater chance of having depression than farmers who had used weedkillers less [Kerry Grens, "Weedkillers Tied to Depression in Farmers," Reuters, 2013.07.26].

Say it with me: correlation does not prove causation. It could be that farmers using herbicide suffer more depression because they have enslaved themselves to the ag-industrial complex to make a living.

But you know, my friend Charlie Johnson, Orland's organic farming mogul, always seems to have a smile on his face. Maybe it's just because he can have visitors over to his farm without worrying that Monsanto will call in an air strike.


Speaking of jobs, Governor Dennis Daugaard has made a big deal of promoting jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math—the STEM jobs toward which we are supposed to retool our education system.... because who needs literature, anyway?

But as with so much else, South Dakota doesn't seem willing to pay for the STEM it wants. Bloomberg has a handy chart on STEM job pay that shows that, just like teachers, South Dakota's STEM workers get the lowest pay in the nation. The average South Dakota STEM wage is $55,432. Minnesota is the best state in the region, 18th overall, with average STEM pay of $74,436. Factor in the BEA regional purchasing parity data we talked about a couple weeks ago, and an engineer falling for the Dakota Roots mall pitch takes over a 17% cut in purchasing power. It doesn't take a slide rule to tell you that's a bum deal.

STEM jobs nationwide offer pay 64% higher than the general average wage. In South Dakota, that premium is 53.9%, the eighth-lowest in the U.S. Washington, D.C., offers the lowest STEM premium, just 24.5%, but D.C.'s STEMmers have little to complain about: they get the highest STEM pay in the nation, an average of $94,536.


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