The headline in the Star/Tribune that the Mayor of Red Wing is going to work for the frac sand mining industry was a revelation. Red Wing is near the heart of the frac sand mining proposals that are popping up in the hills and valleys of southeastern Minnesota.
The mayor, Dennis Egan, will be lobbying at the legislature for an industry sand council heavily involved in frac sand mining. Whether this might be a conflict of interest, for a local official to work for an industry that is seeking local government permits, is being looked at by the Red Wing City Council.
This revelation came on the heels of another in the same newspaper over the weekend that shows the frac sand industry uses it’s money and promises of jobs to get some local jurisdictions with tough regulations to get annexed by jurisdictions more favorable to allow lax restrictions on frac sand mining. So a local sand mining ordinance that restricted hours of operation, required air monitoring and inhibited location of a mine from nearby residences, might see these regulations loosened when annexed to an adjacent community.
This seems to be happening in both western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota with more regularity. More than 100 frac sand facilities in the two states have applied for permits in the past four years. Community residents that dislike the environmental impact of having a sand mining facility in their backyard may have one thrust upon them regardless.
There has been talk at the Capitol this session about having a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) being done on frac sand mining, along with a temporary moratorium until the study is done. No bills on the subject have been introduced yet, but word is that a GEIS bill and another that would give local governments technical and educational assistance may be introduced shortly.
Local communities need help with this issue, as many don’t have the staff expertise to deal with the fast pace and potential problems of frac sand proposals. State government should strongly consider statewide regulation so the industry can’t pit one community against another in order to get their way.
We don’t yet know the full environmental ramifications of frac sand mines cropping up near residences in southern Minnesota. Perhaps a full-scale GEIS will give us the necessary answers to deal with the impacts and go forward.