A new proposal to limit frac sand mining has surfaced in the state Senate. The Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Tuesday night passed a game and fish bill that would significantly restrict mining activities in southeastern Minnesota, which is rich in the silica sand that’s a key ingredient in the hydraulic fracturing technique of oil exploration that’s being pursued in western North Dakota.
The point person on frac sand bills in the Senate, Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, is carrying a game and fish bill that raises water-related concerns about frac sand mining. The bill would prohibit any industrial silica sand mining in an area that’s referred to as the Department of Natural Resources Paleozoic Plateau Ecological Section if its located “within one mile of any spring, groundwater seepage area, fen, designated trout stream, class 2a water as designated in the rules of the Pollution Control Agency, or any perennially flowing tributary of a designated trout stream of class 2a water.”
The Paleozoic Plateau encompasses much of southeastern Minnesota.
Schmit said the porous type of geology in southeastern Minnesota makes the region susceptible to water pollution that could harm its unique cold water fishery.
“There is no guarantee that we are going to have any other bill on silica sand mining pass out of the Legislature this year, so this is, I think, an appropriate place for some standards regarding our waters and our trout fishing,” Schmit said.
The bill has further limitations like not allowing water to be appropriated within 25 feet of the water table. Schmit said the bill would focus mining away from the most environmentally sensitive areas of the region. The game and fish bill passed the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and was referred to State and Local Government Committee.
While the hearing didn’t feature the phalanx of business and environmental interests that have spoken out on other frac sand bills this session, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce weighed in against it. Tony Kwilas, the chamber’s environmental policy lobbyist, testified that the business group objects to the proposal because it singles out sand mining while other industrial pursuits, such as crop irrigation, currently have permits.
Schmit is also the chief author of three other frac sand bills. One would create a technical advisory council for local governments. The second proposal directs the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board to develop standards by October that local governments can use to establish ordinances for frac sand mining permits. The third would prohibit frac sand mining projects until May 1, 2014, while a general economic impact statement (GEIS) is prepared.