State regulators writing new frac sand rules

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other state agencies are beginning to write new rules for frac sand mining as part of a plan ordered by the Legislature.

The special silica sand, abundant in southeast Minnesota and southwest Wisconsin, is a vital piece of the oil drilling process in North Dakota's Bakken fields. Demand for the sand jumped in recent years with the North Dakota oil boom. Critics, though, argued the sand rush had overwhelmed local governments and pressed for more state rules to protect the environment and quality of life near the sand mines.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is creating a permit for mines located near trout streams and designing rules for how mine sites must be reclaimed after the sand is removed. The agency already has some mine land reclamation rules which might apply to silica sand mines, industrial minerals supervisor Heather Arends said.

The DNR is asking for public comment on its rulemaking and public hearings are likely. The whole process is likely to take close to two years, she added.

The MPCA is working on rules to control particulate emissions and other air pollutants from frac sand mines and expects a lot of public input, the agency's Nathan Cooley said.

Besides the MPCA's air quality rules, the Environmental Quality Board will write new rules for environmental review of proposed mines.

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