Frac sand mining bill clears another hurdle

Companion bills in the Minnesota House and Senate addressing environmental and health concerns related frac sand mining have been approved by policy committees and now move to finance panels.

Votes to move the bills forward have been mostly along party lines, with Republicans mostly opposed.

The silica sand has been mined for years in Minnesota, but because it's now used in hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and gas, demand is increasing dramatically and Minnesota communities are coping with the increased activity.

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, says neither the state nor local governments are ready for a rapid increase in permit requests for new mines. He's sponsor of a bill that would set up a technical advisory council to help local governments deal with frac sand mining health and environmental questions.

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All you have to do is look over to Wisconsin," he said. "Just two years ago, there was small handful of mining permit requests, and two years later we have over 100 mining operations."

But industry critics say existing state rules and local land use controls are adequate, and they worry that added regulations could make their operations uncompetitive.

Speaking at a Senate hearing Wednesday night, Scott Sustacek, CEO of Jordan Sands, said his company, in Mankato, has spent more than $1 million studying environmental issues for a new silica sand mine that will create 70 new jobs. He urged lawmakers not to stifle the industry with regulations.

"We really cannot make the solution so expensive that it puts operators in this industry, especially small ones like ours, trying to come into the marketplace, at risk by imposing high taxes or fees that really make us noncompetitive with people around the country," he said.