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Danielle Killey, Forum News Service, Published February 15 2013

Silica sand mining in Minnesota spotlight

ST. PAUL – Many Minnesotans are not sure whether more silica sand mining could mean dangerous dust and contaminated water, a booming economy or something in between.

Cities and counties have tried to manage mounting interest in mining Minnesota’s silica sand, but with many questions still surrounding the industry, some think it is time for the state to step in.

“I want to address the unanswered questions that are troubling our local decision-makers and stakeholders and concerned citizens,” Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, said. “The state has the capacity to get some of those answers.”

The Minnesota Legislature will take its first look at the issue this year Tuesday. Lawmakers will hear testimony on silica sand mining issues at a joint House and Senate committee meeting, and bills will be discussed in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Feb. 26.

The Land Stewardship Project, a nonprofit organization focused on sustainability and land issues, plans to pack the hearing room. The group and its partners are pushing for a statewide environmental and economic study to include information about water, health, infrastructure and economic impacts, and clearer state regulations, policy program organizer Bobby King said.

“While that’s going on, we need a moratorium so the industry doesn’t get ahead of appropriate regulations,” he said.

A statewide moratorium would temporarily put new operations on hold.

Concerns about the mining industry include stress on roads due to increased truck traffic, noise and impacts on water and air quality. Gov. Mark Dayton has said that transportation issues are among his biggest concerns.

The round, hard silica sand grains – mainly found in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois – are used to extract natural gas or oil in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The sand is injected along with water and chemicals into oil and gas wells to prop open cracks and increase the productivity of the wells.

Supporters note the industry can have a positive economic impact on communities around mining or processing operations.

“These businesses have livable-wage jobs,” Dennis Egan, head of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, said. “They take great pride in their relationships with the communities that they are doing business in.”


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