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Controversial Frac Mining Being Debated At State Capitol

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77692_Bill Hudson WEB Bill Hudson
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ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Hundreds of voices on both sides of the frac sand mining debate crammed into a state capitol hearing room. There were so many, in fact, that a second room was set aside to accommodate the overflow crowd of spectators.

Largely residents of southeastern Minnesota counties who were hoping to bend lawmakers’ ears.

The legislature is being asked to decide whether more state regulation is necessary to help guide the safety of this fast growing and highly controversial industry.

Opponents like Bobby King say, “we want a state moratorium on the impacted communities while these permits are being figured out.”

The southeastern part of the state has the precise geologic formations making it rich with crystalline silica sand. That particular sand is extremely fine and in high demand by gas and oil drillers who use it to fracture their wells to suck out more oil and gas.

Still, residents like Kelley Stanage are concerned. She worries about the carcinogenic effects of silica sand when it becomes airborne.

‘”OSHA regulates frac sand in the workplace but no standards or regulations for outside. Ambient dust particles that float through the air,” said Stanage.

Opponents, such as Stanage, say local regulations and permits are not enough. They fear the combined health and environmental impacts from dust, excess truck traffic and the industry’s tremendous thirst for ground water to help wash the mined sand.

However, for those in the aggregate industry, frac sand mining is creating badly needed jobs for the region and putting dollars into city and county coffers.

“In 2010, our sales were down and everybody thought this is a great way for us to have jobs again,” said Mike Caron with the Tiller Corporation.

Meanwhile, opponents are calling for a statewide moratorium until broader environmental impact studies can be done.

To that, industry representatives told a joint panel of lawmakers, that frac sand mining is a local issue that is governed under local zoning and land use ordinances.

“All these state standards have been developed with the goal of protecting and preserving our environment and health,” said Kirsten Pauly, of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council.

Tuesday’s testimony gave lawmakers broader understanding of how frac sand mining is impacting Minnesota communities and the region’s economy. They will use the testimony to help mold expected legislation concerning broader state regulations of frac sand mining.

The first bill is expected to be introduced by State Senator Matt Schmit, (DFL-Red Wing) later this week.

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