Winona passes 1-year moratorium on frac sand mining

Mt. Frac
A pile of silica sand dubbed "Mt. Frac" is part of what's fueled the concern among residents in Winona over the growing sand mining industry. City officials voted this week to enact a one-year moratorium on sand mining.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Baier

Winona city officials held an emergency meeting this week and passed a one-year moratorium that temporarily bans any new or expanded silica sand mining operations within city limits.

Read a MPR News primer on frac sand mining.

Carlos Espinosa, assistant city planner in Winona, said officials will take input on the moratorium from the public at a hearing Monday.

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"Despite the fact that we adopted the moratorium, we still want to hear from the public," Espinosa said.

Espinosa said the moratorium covers frac sand mining, storage, washing, drying or processing operations. The city will use the time to study the impacts of sand mining operations on the city.

Four other cities and five counties in southeast Minnesota have passed moratoriums on silica sand mining in recent months.

For decades, companies have mined silica sand in the Upper Midwest for window glass and water filtration products, but the practice has drawn widespread condemnation among environmentalists and others since energy companies discovered it helps extract oil and natural gas from the ground.

Silica sand is in high demand now because it's used in the booming natural gas industry for an extraction process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. When the sand is forced into underground rock formations it breaks up the stone, releasing large amounts of natural gas. The hard Minnesota sand is perfect for fracking, because it can withstand the intense pressure needed to break rock.