How Minnesota and Wisconsin's frac sand mining rules differ

Sand mining
A loader moves sand through the underground mine at the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Co. in Maiden Rock, Wis. Mining experts say Minnesota frac sand rules are already more stringent than Wisconsin's, and that could affect the industry's growth in the two states.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

Frac sand mining industry experts say Minnesota's environmental regulations are more stringent than Wisconsin's. The industry is regulated in a variety of ways, and evaluating all the differences between the two states is complicated. Below is a list of some of the environmental regulations that apply to silica sand mining and a description of how each state approaches them.

Environmental Review: Minnesota state law includes mandatory environmental review for sand mines of a certain size. Mines larger than 40 acres must complete an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, and mines larger than 160 acres must complete an Environmental Impact Statement. In addition, local governments can require environmental review even if state law doesn't require it. In Wisconsin, sand mines usually don't require environmental review unless government land is involved.

Water Appropriation: Silica sand processing uses a lot of water. Mines in both states must have water appropriation permits if they plan on pumping more than a certain number of gallons. The volume of water that triggers the permit requirement is different in each state: Minnesota requires the permit for pumping more than 10,000 gallons/day, and Wisconsin requires it for pumping 70 gallons/minute. (If you pump water at 70 gallons/minute over a 24-hour period it calculates out to about 100,800 gallons.)

Permit Fees: Industry officials say environmental permit fees are generally higher in Minnesota, and sometimes Minnesota bills companies for the time it takes to evaluate a permit request. For example, Mankato-based Unamin Corp. said it paid Minnesota officials $150,000 to evaluate a water use permit, and the water use fees were about 10 times the cost of Wisconsin's.

Reclamation: Reclamation is the plan a mining company makes with the government to shut down the mine and reclaim the land for another use. Wisconsin state law requires all mining companies to have a plan ahead of time and to provide financial assurance in case the company goes belly up. Minnesota has no state law requiring reclamation plans, but many local governments require it.

State Resources: Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources has had a designated point-person for frac sand mining since August 2011. Sand mining companies can field questions and permit requests through that staff person. Minnesota has no designated sand mining staff, and companies must fulfill permit requirements through two different state agencies: the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Inspections: Neither state has designated inspectors to monitor the silica sand mining industry. State inspections of air, water and other permits are done periodically across industries.

Sources: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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