Broad Minnesota frac sand mining study requested

Silica sand
Stockpiles of silica sand are piled at Modern Transport Rail loading terminal in Winona, Minn on Feb. 13, 2012.
AP Photo/The Winona Daily News, Andrew Link

Minnesota's top environmental officials are being asked to conduct a broad study on frac sand mining.

Frac sand is silica sand used to make glass and abrasives, and more recently, to force oil and gas out of the earth.

Parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota have high quality silica, and mining the sand is booming in Wisconsin. Several Minnesota counties have imposed moratoriums, and the state Environmental Quality Board is considering whether to do a generic study of the potential health, environmental, and socioeconomic effects of frac sand mining.

A comprehensive study could take several years, and it's unclear how the study would be paid for.

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Industry leaders say existing rules do a good job of protecting the environment.

Kristin Eide-Tollefson, who is on the planning commission in Florence Township in Goodhue County, says local governments need more information.

"These permits just start flooding these communities once the doors are opened," Eide-Tollefson said.

Mine operators say existing controls are adequate. Rich Budinger of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company, which has operated one mine since the 1920s, says a study would be time consuming and akin to the county-enacted moratoriums

"Resources at that point are sometimes redirected into areas where counties and townships understand non-metallic mining and industrial sand mining and understand that regulations are in place to pretty much protect the safety and the environment of the region," Budinger said.

In the past, similar studies have been done on forest management and feedlots.