Tell the State Legislature to Act NOW to Protect Rural Communities from Frac Sand Mining

State Senate hearing on the Issue is Tues., Feb. 19,
at Noon, in the Senate Environment Policy Committee

Corporate interests are pushing industrial-scale frac sand mining into rural Minnesota. The clock is ticking and the frac sand industry wants to push into Minnesota full force before state permitting standards can be established. NOW is the time for the state to act, not after the industry has polluted air and water and irreversibly harmed our rural communities. Regulating this new, large industry has been primarily left to local governments.

This is unfair and plays into the hands of the outside corporate interests pushing this industry. Counties, cities and townships don’t have the mandate or resources to analyze the regional impact of the industry and don’t have the expertise to monitor and limit pollution. Knowing this, citizens by the hundreds have organized at the county and township level to protect their communities.

It is past time for our state agencies, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health, to move from studying the issue to taking action to regulate the industry.

The fact is we need strong local control AND state-level permits that ensure pollution standards are being followed that protect the region. This concept of the state establishing a regulatory floor that local governments can go beyond if they wish is how many other businesses are regulated, including large-scale feedlots, ethanol facilities and solid waste facilities.

We need state legislation that enacts:

  • Strong state-level permitting requirements that work with local control. These state-level requirements would serve as a floor for any additional local land use ordinances.
  • A state moratorium in the impacted communities on any new frac sand facilities to allow time for creating state requirements and to complete an in-depth study.
  • An in-depth state study, such as a Generic Environmental Impact Statement. This study would help set state permitting standards and analyze the potential impact of the industry.
  • Permitting fees and taxes on the industry that cover the costs of state regulation and damage to roads and bridges.

 

TAKE ACTION NOW

1. Call your state legislators. You can find your state legislators’ names and contact information online HERE. Or for your Senator you can call 651-296-0504 or 888-234-1112. For your Representative call 651-296-2146 or 800-657-3550.

 Here is a suggested message:

“We can’t leave regulating the frac sand industry solely to local governments. We need state legislation that establishes state permitting requirements for the industry that protect our communities, including our air and water. These state standards need to be in addition to local control, which must stay strong. We need a moratorium while these state standards are established and an in-depth study is done to help determine what the standards should be. I urge you to act NOW because outside corporate interests are pushing hard to establish mines before any state standards are established.”

If you live in or have a connection to a community affected by the frac sand industry, be sure and tell your story. Legislators need to hear from citizens in the impacted communities about the real harm that the frac sand industry will do if left unchecked.

2. Attend and testify at the Senate Environment Policy hearing on Tues., Feb. 19, at noon, in Room 123 of the State Capitol. We need a full room and that means over 50 people. If you plan to attend or want information on testifying, e-mail Bobby at bking@landstewardshipproject.org. LSP will help by coordinating rides and may charter a bus.

3. Call members of the Senate Environment Policy Committee. Let’s make sure every member of the committee hears about this issue from citizens before the hearing. Use the suggested message above when you e-mail or call.

 

More information:

• What is “frac sand”? Frac sand, also called silica sand, is a very fine and round sand found throughout the Driftless Region of Wisconsin and Minnesota. It is used in hydraulic fracturing for gas and oil. This is the process of extracting gas and oil by injecting a highly pressurized “fracking” fluid containing sand that creates new channels in the rock. It has been determined that the silica sand in western Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota is the best in the world for this use because it is exceptionally hard and round. The mining and processing of this “frac sand” in Wisconsin has been devastating. In recent years, over 90 new mines have been established, along with large processing and transportation facilities. Water and air have been polluted, rural communities devastated and thousands of people negatively impacted. This industrial-scale silica sand mining is substantially different from the aggregate mining that has long taken place in this part of the state. The frac sand industry poses a real threat to the area’s natural resources, road and bridge infrastructure, farming and tourism industry, and more.

• The industry is pushing hard to get into Minnesota. Dozens of operations are being proposed in the state, including what would be the largest frac sand processing and loading facility in North America in St. Charles (Winona County), supplied by at least six mines within a 5-mile by 2-mile area. The first two of those mines alone would generate up to 1,200 truck trips a day and cover 120 acres to start. In the city of Wabasha, a major frac sand transfer facility is being proposed that will mean hundreds of frac sand trucks coming from Wisconsin and traveling through residential areas and past a nearby hospital. These facilities require no meaningful state-level permits, only local land use permits. In Houston County, a frac sand mine owner refused to abide by the county moratorium and the county was forced to take court action to get the mine to comply.

• Frac sand mining threatens the health of the community and our air and water. Southeast Minnesota’s karst region is extremely sensitive to groundwater pollution. Large-scale frac sand mining will require processing of the sand, which uses toxic chemicals. Frac sand mining and processing release dangerous crystalline silica particles, known to contribute to silicosis, lung cancer and other diseases. It is not known what level of exposure is safe. Hundreds of trucks hauling frac sand daily would also release carcinogenic diesel exhaust into our air.

• The industry has a track record of bullying rural communities and showing disregard for neighbors and the environment. Read this front page account in the Minneapolis Star Tribune of how a large frac sand mine played one local government against another in Wisconsin to get lax regulations: "Sand mine rules melt under pressure." There have already been two large spills at frac sand mines in Wisconsin. (Both are owned and operated by Minnesota companies.) In both, the spills were reported by citizens, not the companies. One was at a frac sand mine and processing facility located near Grantsburg, just 100 feet outside the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. For five days, massive amounts of silica sand and water flowed from a holding pond through a failed berm and into an environmentally sensitive area that included a wetland, creek and the St. Croix River.

Online sources of good information on the frac sand industry:

  • Save the Hills Alliance. Information on how the industry has affected Wisconsin, including information about health and environmental impacts.
  • Save the Bluffs. Information about the frac sand issues in Goodhue County and about the industry in general.
  • SandPoint Times. Advocating solutions to protect southeast Minnesota from frac sand mining.

For more information on LSP's work related to this issue, contact Bobby King at 612-722-6377 or bking@landstewardshipproject.org.