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Frac sand bill calls for study, oversight

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The Minnesota senator leading the charge in silica sand mining debate is calling for a statewide study and the creation of a regional board to oversee the booming industry.

Sen. Matt Schmit, a Red Wing Democrat, unveiled a bill Friday that he says would give the state some oversight while giving local governments more authority to regulate silica mining.

The silica sand that is natural to western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota is ideal for hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The fracking process helps capture natural gas and oil in places like North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

Industry proponents and critics packed the Capitol on Tuesday for a hearing on silica mining, which has grown rapidly in southeastern Minnesota.

Among the hottest issues is whether the state should halt new mines while studying the industry. Schmit's bill doesn't call for a statewide moratorium, but he is leaving the door open to one.

The bill has its first Senate hearing next Tuesday.