Senate panel approves frac sand mining moratorium

Sen. Matt Schmit
DFL state Sen. Matt Schmit introduces a bill to regulate the silica sand mining industry Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 during a Senate Environment and Energy Committee hearing at the state Capitol.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

A state Senate committee on Tuesday approved a statewide moratorium on new frac sand mining, despite warnings from industry officials that the legislation would stifle job growth and put Minnesota at a competitive disadvantage with its neighbor, Wisconsin.

"If there's a long-term demand for this sand like the industry says there is, there will be plenty of opportunities for jobs in the future," said Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, the bill's sponsor. "We have an opportunity to get this right."

The measure also includes a production tax to pay for things like damaged roads, requires the state to prepare a generic Environmental Impact Statement and creates a board in southeastern Minnesota that would address concerns about silica sand mining. The vote was 8-4 along party lines.

Demand has grown for the sand used to drill for oil and gas in a process known as fracking, and many companies are interested in mining the sand in southeastern Minnesota. But local residents are concerned the mining is a health hazard and will damage aquifers and other natural resources.

Industry officials said the proposed regulations would prevent the kind of job growth Wisconsin has seen from silica sand mining. Several Republican senators on the committee agreed.

Sen. Matt Schmit
DFL state Sen. Matt Schmit center, listens to testimony from David Williams, left, of Fillmore County, and Beth Proctor, right, of Blue Earth County, who asked for greater regulation of the silica sand mining industry Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 during a Senate Environment and Energy Committee hearing at the state Capitol.
MPR Photo/Jennifer Simonson

"We have to be very careful of what we're doing here," said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, who argued the industry already faces enough state environmental standards. "We are missing the opportunity of this energy revolution."

The bill was referred to the Senate State and Local Government Committee. A House bill that regulates the industry without imposing a moratorium on new mining awaits a hearing.

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