Schmit calls for statewide survey on frac sand mining

A southeastern Minnesota lawmaker is proposing a broad bill that regulates the frac sand industry in Minnesota. Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, wants to study the impact of silica sand mining on water resources, air and water quality and roads and bridges.

Schmit says his bill would allow local governments to extend their moratoriums on frac sand mining for two years. He says that should give the state enough time to study the impact of the industry.

“This GEIS is going to set that study in motion and it will come back with some specific recommendations and set the stage for standards,” he said.

Schmit’s bill would also create a silica sand production tax to help pay for damage caused by the mining. Schmit disagrees with industry officials who say statewide standards aren’t needed. He says the industry explosion in western Wisconsin prompted him to take action.

“When the price of silica sand increases and the demand for it increases and the demand for it increases, we’re going to see a lot of permit requests coming into southern Minnesota,” Schmit said. “I think it’s fine. We want to strike a right balance between leveraging a resource that we have but we want to make sure we do it right and I’m not sure western Wisconsin has done it right.”

Local officials have been urging state lawmakers to come up with standards to regulate frac sand mining. The industry has emerged in recent years to help the oil and gas industry use silica sand to help free oil and gas reserves using the hydraulic fracturing process or fracking.

Industry officials say they don’t think state regulations are necessary.

Here’s a copy of the bill. The bill is scheduled to get a hearing on Tuesday.

Update:

Bobby King, state policy organizer for the Land Stewardship Project, said the bill doesn’t include the state moratorium on frac sand mining the group had wanted. But he said he expects a state moratorium will be added to the bill as an amendment during Tuesday’s hearing.

“We can establish state standards and do an in-depth study to figure out how harmful the industry is but if we haven’t pressed the pause button, they’re going to run in and develop,” King said.

MPR’s Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this report.