RED WING, Minn. (AP) — Under the forested bluffs of southeastern Minnesota lies an increasingly sought-after resource prized by the energy industry that’s attracting interest to the state from an increasing number of companies, which isn’t sitting well with some residents.

Energy companies use “frac sand” to extract natural gas and oil from underground rock in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The sand has perfectly round, hard and chemically inert grains, Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday.

One energy company recently purchased land near Red Wing for sand mining, sparking opposition from residents and environmentalists who are mobilizing to try to stop the project.

Tony Runkel, the state’s chief geologist, said the Mississippi River Valley in parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois has the potential to turn into a hot spot for frac sand mining. There are already a handful of operations in the scenic region, including across the Mississippi in Wisconsin.

“There’s a huge amount. This sandstone layer that they’re targeting is very, very extensive,” Runkel said. “What’s relatively rare is where it occurs in a setting where it’s close enough to the land surface that it can be mined in an economically feasible fashion and still make money.”

But some residents fear that sand mining will spoil the local environment, said Bruce Ause, retired director of the Red Wing Environmental Learning Center.

“It’s not that they don’t want any development whatsoever,” Ause said. “But I think they want smart development, sustainable development that doesn’t damage the main reason that people live here or want to live here.”

The fracking process pumps a mixture of frac sand, water and chemicals into underground rock formations to break up the stone and release oil and natural gas. It allows affordable access to fossil fuel supplies that once were too expensive to tap.

But it’s been a contentious issue in some states that have fracking operations. Critics argue that chemicals used in fracking may be contaminating water supplies.

Windsor Permian LLC, a division of Oklahoma City-based Windsor Energy Inc., bought 155 acres near Red Wing for $2.6 million earlier this year. The company indicated it would use the land as a “sand pit,” though Goodhue County officials have not yet received any permit applications from Windsor. Company officials did not returns Minnesota Public Radio’s calls for comment and did not immediately return a message left Friday by The Associated Press.

County officials said Windsor Permian hired an environmental consulting company out of St. Paul and has started work on exploratory wells.

Because the sand is buried deep in the ground, the process of extracting it has met environmental and health questions. Earlier this week, more than 100 residents met at the Red Wing public library to express concern.

Keith Fossen said he’s worried about what he’s heard from people across the river in Wisconsin communities close to frac sand mines.

“What it would do to the water tables and flooding basements, I mean, we don’t know `cause it hasn’t happened here,” said Fossen, who lives near the recently purchased property. “But everyone we’re talking to that has experienced this said it’s just horrible.”

Fossen and other residents plan to ask to the county board to call a moratorium on any further mining before Windsor Permian applies for any permits.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (20)
  1. joey33 says:

    is there a problem…?

  2. Clarence says:

    No problem here, DIG-DIG-DIG, DRILL-DRILL-DRILL we need the oil resources!!

  3. Bub says:

    I disagree with the whole idea of fracing. The surface of earth is delicate enough with out intentially cracking sub surface structures that we cannot see and have very little knowledge of.

  4. WHAT????? says:

    Not to mention that this method of mining has the biggest chance to contaminate underground water sources. If you do not know what “fracking” is, it is when they drill to a certain depth and then pump down a mixture of chemicals, water and cement until the ground cracks so that gas can come up through the cracks. Then they try to cap off the cracks and harvest what comes up. The problem is there is no way to know for sure where the cracks will be made and this has a big chance to cause the cracks to open up an underground water source that will then drain into a river or lake. Not a proven science or way to extract gas. I look forward to all the comments about how “liberal” I am because of this post, but if you do not believe me this is a perfect chance to look up what this is.

    1. Jacob says:

      If you don’t like helping the economy, NMP (Not my problem)! I don’t have a trust fund to fall back on (98% of us working Americans don’t) and wish I could use my engineering education on professional jobs in the area. We need to utilize resources locally rather than abroad to bring jobs. If this was my back yard, dig!

      1. Jim says:

        Are you trying to imply that only someone with a trust fund would be against this? That’s absurd. Some people, like me, view the environment as more important than the economy. I don’t favor destroying large parts of the natural beauty of this state just so you can use your degree.

        1. James says:

          Yes, we shall never build another business or highway again. We MUST resort to tree-top zip lines and tarzan ropes for travel. If we all cut the floors out of our cars and trucks, we can power our vehicles by our feet. — blah blah blah. We’re talking about underground drilling, no different than building a warehouse with a few pipes and pumps on the surface. Drill away. Don’t harm anyone in the process.

        2. lol says:

          how are we destroying large parts of natural beauty lol .. O yes liberals live every day with their head in the ground no wonder they are clueless to the world around them

      2. John says:

        This kind of mentality has to be openly criticized for being false and misleading. We are talking about large corporations that will leave you with less than you have now, Jacob..if that is your real name, and if you do not work for the oil companies already.In that case, you should know that you are supporting people who could care less if you and your children suffer. People need to get a little wiser about opinions like this that use envy and negativity to support more greed on the part of the rich.

  5. Jim says:

    Sounds like an awful idea to me. We need to find other sources of energy that don’t require digging up and smashing the surface of the earth.

  6. James says:

    I don’t care what you do, it’s none of my business. Carry on Frackers.

  7. Whatever says:

    This WILL keep my husband working for years! We are very excited about it!

  8. Al says:

    There is a wierd guy who owns alot of land in Scott County along the Mn. river who is going to do the same thing. The results of mining this frac sand are huge amounts of filth and pollution. Go get ’em!

  9. Dave says:

    Just ask the people in Pa. if they enjoy opening their water faucets and igniting the water with a match.

    1. James says:

      Excuse me, I get my water from the rain run-off of my roof. I keep it in a 50 gallon barrel behind my garage. AREN’T YOU DOING THE SAME???? How dare you talk about relying on public plumbing infrastructure in times like this, it’s the public water supply that is polluting our hot chocolate! That’s not “green”. Shame on you if you’re not wiping you a$s with the single ply tp. What we need is a program that gives families money to buy self sustaining water filters and a portable bucket so they can poop outside in the glow of the neighborhood’s headlights at night. We simply can’t have pollution in our public water supply because it will affect the children. What we need is a full stay on all development activity below the surface of the ground state wide until further investigation is completed. We aught to stop all activity in the air, in the land, and in the water until we fully understand all the implications of a system such as injecting dirt into our precious dirt system. The last thing we need is dirt and other natural elements bubbling up all willy nilly like. We should investigate the effects of earth quakes and try to stop the revolution of the earth if there’s a way. It simply has to be done. The future of our environment is at risk. Think of the birds, the animals, the “children”. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH Blow it out your frac sand. DRILL!

    2. dave says:

      CANTON,PA-Look it up smart guy.

  10. Dave says:

    Maybe, just once, the facts and information about this process can be presented and analyzed before the misinformation and frantic chicken little actors tell us this will make the blue sky fall.

  11. JG says:

    Who is John Galt?