Conservationists seek MN frac sand moratorium

A mound of silica sand in Saratoga township
A mound of silica sand waits to be processed at the Nisbit mining site in Saratoga township Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013.
Alex Kolyer / For MPR News, file

A group of frac sand mining opponents from southeastern Minnesota delivered petitions with 6,000 signatures to Gov. Mark Dayton today asking for a two-year industry ban in that region.

Many of them had traveled by bus to urge the governor to order the ban to give officials time to study the potential impact of frac sand mining on the environment.

They argue Dayton has the authority to declare southeastern Minnesota a "critical area" to protect the region from sand mining.

Bobby King, state policy organizer for the Land Stewardship Project said Dayton should designate southeastern Minnesota a "critical area" under a law created in 1973.

"Not only does the governor have the authority through this act but this is exactly the type of situation this law was created for," King said.

But industry officials say such action could have unintended consequences.

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Dennis Egan, executive director of the Minnesota Industrial Sand Council said the state is already working through new frac sand regulations.

"We know that there's going to be some conversation next year with some legislators about did it work, do they need to do some other things, how do you pay for roads, those kinds of things," Egan said. "But to have the Critical Areas Act, which is more than just a moratorium on sand mining, we think is an overreach."

A Dayton spokesman said the governor's legal counsel has advised against ordering a moratorium without legislative approval.

Dayton says he agrees with opponents that frac sand mining shouldn't be happening in southeastern Minnesota, but says his hands are tied because the Legislature already decided against a ban.

"I'd like to ban it entirely," Dayton said. "I think the environmental risks are far greater than the economic benefits in terms of jobs and economic benefits for the area, but that's not the law and we're enjoined to enforce the law."

State lawmakers last year decided against a statewide ban on frac sand mining. The governor's office says local governments can still issue their own bans.

The state Legislature passed new laws last year that require companies hoping to mine frac sand near trout stream in southeast Minnesota to apply for a permit from the Department of Natural Resources.

And last month, state officials approved voluntary standards to help local governments regulate the silica sand industry.

MPR News' Elizabeth Baier contributed to this report.