The Free Press, Mankato, MN


February 25, 2013

Our View: Review sand mining regulations

— The mere term "frac sand" conjures danger in many people's minds. The reason is the concerns that have been raised about fracking, in which the sand and a mixture of chemicals are injected into oil wells to help draw more oil from the ground.

There is no fracking done in Minnesota but the fine, hard silica sand is abundant in many bluff regions of the state, including here in the Minnesota River valley and around Red Wing and Winona.

That means mining companies are eager to extract the valuable sand, which is in high demand. Locally, the Jordan Sands project is being considered north of Mankato in a former limestone quarry. Some neighbors in the area and some other residents oppose the project.

The mining of silica sand is hardly new to the area. Unimin in Ottawa has been mining silica for use in glass making and more recently for fracking for decades with little if any controversy.

Still, with the increasing demand for the sand, lawmakers are considering regulations.

At hearings last week, opponents of mining called for a statewide study of health and environmental effects and for a statewide temporary moratorium on new mines.

Having the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the DNR look more closely at some state standards for silica mining makes sense. Local officials who are responsible for reviewing mining projects don't have the scientific expertise or resources to make informed decisions on things such as water and air quality issues related to silica mining and processing.

 But putting a moratorium on mining -- absent any credible evidence of negative effects -- unnecessarily harms economic development. Local governments are still best for deciding their local land-use rules and putting reasonable restrictions on companies. If they choose to permit a sand mining operation, any state standards that are developed can and will be applied to those operations.

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