Goodhue advisory panel rejects sand mining moratorium

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(MPR Photo/ Elizabeth Baier)

The Goodhue County Planning Advisory commission has recommended that county commissioners deny a moratorium on silica sand mining, despite resident opposition to the method.

The issue came up earlier this year when Windsor Permian, a division of Oklahoma-based Windsor Energy, bought 155 acres near Red Wing for $2.6 million.

Although the company indicated it would used the land as a “sand pit,” Goodhue County officials have not received any permit applications from them.

Residents have been pushing county commissioners to call a moratorium on any further mining before Windsor Permian applies for any permits. The moratorium would prevent sand mines from being established for a year.

The County Board of Commissioners will consider the advisory commission’s recommendations before making its final decision on the moratorium. That meeting has not yet been scheduled.

Parts of southeastern Minnesota are full of “frac sand,” highly sought after for its size and strength. With perfectly round grains that look like brown sugar crystals, the sand is ideal for the oil and natural gas exploration, which uses it to extract fuel from underground rock in a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The sand in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois is considered some of the best frac sand in North America because it’s chemically inert and can withstand intense pressure needed to break rock.

There are already a handful of frac sand mine operations around the region.

But in some areas of southeastern Minnesota, the sand is buried deep in the ground and the process of extracting that sand has met with environmental and health concerns.

The natural gas industry denies widespread problems. The federal Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a national study to evaluate the environmental contamination in gas drilling areas around the country and expects to release its findings sometime next year.

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