Residents of southeastern Minnesota came by the busload to the State Capitol Tuesday — some carrying signs with slogans such as “Silica in Red Wing? No Frackin’ Way!” — for a joint committee hearing on silica-sand mining.
The House Energy Policy Committee and the Senate Environment and Energy Committee heard testimony on the controversial topic from an overflow group of citizens asking the state for further regulation and time to study the issue, and industry advocates speaking in support of the practice and the jobs it creates. No action was taken.
State officials were also present to bring members up to date on current regulations regarding the mining of silica sand, which is of superior quality in southeastern Minnesota and increasingly valuable in recent years because of its use in the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations that yield natural gas.
As demand for the sand increases, however, residents have expressed concerns about the impact silica mines have on the air, water, infrastructure and quality of life. Lynn Schoen, a member of the Wabasha City Council, told lawmakers a frac sand company was developing a facility in her city’s industrial zone, but that the industry “was at odds with the economy of Wabasha.”
She told members the tourism industry in Wabasha County accounts for more than 700 jobs and would be hurt by the increase in truck traffic, and decrease in air and water quality, she believes would result.
“A town the size of Wabasha doesn’t have the personnel to monitor the impacts of frac sand businesses … we need a state permitting process in addition to our local conditional use permits to make sure we mitigate some of the damage that is sure to come our direction,” Schoen said. “We need a statewide moratorium so we can establish this permitting process.”
Speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council, registered geologist and consulting engineer Kirsten Pauly told committee members the state already does a good job of regulating the silica-mining industry, and held up an air-emissions permit more than 100 pages long to illustrate her point.
“All of these state standards have been developed with the goal of protecting and preserving our environment and the health, safety and welfare of our citizens while preserving sustainable industry and jobs for the state of Minnesota,” Pauly said.