Minn. Lawmakers Start Silica Sand Mining Hearings
A fight over sand landed at the State Capitol on Tuesday.
Some people in southeastern Minnesota want more regulation on "frac" or silica sand mining, an industry that's exploding there. Silica sand is almost perfectly round and is used for hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." It's a process that uses sand and water to get natural gas out of the ground.
It was absolutely packed inside Tuesday's joint committee hearing. Some people couldn't even get in the door when it first began. But once they got inside, everyone wanted their voice heard.
"It's destroyed people's quality of life, their air, their water," said Bobby King, who organized the Land Stewardship Project, and opposes silica sand mining in Minnesota.
Dozens of activists said efforts to regulate it locally aren't working, and they want the state to step in.
"State government involvement is justified and needed," said David Williams, township supervisor for Preble Township in Fillmore County.
Concerns range from air and water quality to increased truck traffic. Opponents want stricter permitting standards, a moratorium on new mines, and a statewide environmental impact study, because little is known about how sand mining could affect the public.
"The best frac sand in the world is in the worst possible area," said Jody McIlrath, a planning commission member in Florence Township in Goodhue County, and the president of Save Our Bluffs.
"We feel we have some of the best sand in the best place," countered one boss of a sand mining company who testified before the committee.
Several mining companies testified that efforts to crack down on the operations could threaten the industry. They said permitting standards are already rigorous, and that firms take steps to ensure the health and safety of employees and surrounding communities, like doing their own air quality monitoring.
"These types of mining operations have been operating for decades and decades successfully in Minnesota in a regulated, effective fashion," said Kirsten Pauly, a geologist and civil engineer with Sunde Engineering.
Firms also said they bring good jobs to areas that need them.
"We build good businesses here, we build them the right way, and we build them in ways that give back to the community," said Scott Sustacek, CEO of Jordan Sands.
Some people are afraid the companies will take the sand and leave communities to clean up.
"What they're here for is short-term profit at the expense of the local community," King said.
"The state needs to get involved now to help protect our home -- my home," said Lynn Schoen, a city councilor in Wabasha.
Both sides got to speak on Tuesday, but there was no debate among legislators. That will likely occur next Tuesday, when the same joint committee is scheduled to start discussing new silica mining legislation.