Conservation Minnesota

Frac Sand Rules Should be Monitored

JohnHellandbiopicA final compromise on the effects of mining silica sand in Minnesota was reached at the end of the 2013 Legislature.  It followed months of debate over whether the state should impose a mining moratorium in order to prepare a regional environmental impact statement to study the cumulative impact of sand mining in southeastern Minnesota.

The final legislation had four major components:
1) A DNR permit will be required to protect trout streams within one mile of a frac sand mine;
2) The DNR, PCA, EQB and MDH will work on rule making this year for protective environmental standards involving frac sand mining;
3) The above agencies will develop a technical assistance team to assist local governments in ordinance development and what to consider when silica sand mining proposals arise in their locales; and
4) Allows local governments to extend any local moratoria two more times in order for them to fully study and discuss sand mining proposals

Other Midwestern states are considering silica sand mining proposals too.  In fact, some analysts are characterizing Wisconsin as embracing the industry, Minnesota as trying to balance the economic gain with environmental protection, and Iowa as trying to prevent the industry from getting a foothold in the state.

Illinois, a state where frac sand will be used within it’s borders for oil and gas development, recently passed a new law thought to be the toughest in the country.  It came about after a moratorium bill failed to pass in 2012, was reintroduced in 2013, and where a group of mainstream environmental groups worked with mining interest representatives to craft the bill that became law.

As part of the Illinois law, companies that drill must disclose any chemicals they utilize, and they need to test the groundwater before, during and after the fracking process.  A third party will conduct the water testing.  Another provision allows citizens to fully participate in the permitting process and challenge any violations.

The new law passed with much controversy.  Local grassroots groups in areas where frac sand mining will occur said the bill was rushed through without key questions being answered, and they were left out of the mainstream environmental groups that helped with the regulatory compromise.

Sandra Steingraber, a well-known environmental author and anti-fracking activist, has been very active in Illinois in still leading a push for a statewide moratorium.  She accuses the governor and legislative leaders in the state of pushing the regulatory law quickly because of the threat of a moratorium.

Rules must be developed for frac sand mining in Illinois, as they will be in Minnesota.  Interested Minnesota citizens and environmental groups should follow closely how their rules evolve, and look to compare the rules that develop in Illinois.

About John Helland

John Helland

John Helland is a history graduate of the University of Minnesota. He served as the nonpartisan legislative research analyst for the Minnesota House of Representatives after graduation. He worked extensively on environment and natural resources legislation and issues, and was the primary nonpartisan research staffer for the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance committees from 1971 to 2008.

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