One of the talking points industry uses to marginalize citizen concerns about the impact of frac sand mining in Southeastern Minnesota is to insist that those raising questions about the industrial scale mining on their property values, safety, health, communities, landscapes, and future economic opportunities are either misinformed and think fracking itself will be happening in their neigborhoods.
Or the claim is made that the activists are actually using local interests as a stalking horse for opposition to fracking itself, however distant that might be from the bluff country. And while that debate is heated nationally, the Minnesota House and Senate are being asked to legislative relief that would address issues raised by the new scale sand mining itself.
That perception may get a boost from the way Minnesota Public Radio framed the issue in Minnesota Legislature preview: 10 issues to watch:
Gov. Dayton says the issue of sand mining for use in a natural gas and oil extraction process called hydraulic fracturing will be "huge" this session. The procedure, which relies on injecting water, silica sand and chemicals to retrieve oil and natural gas deposits, has been controversial, as has the mining of silica sand in Minnesota. Gov. Dayton and the Legislature will be forced to balance the interests of the energy industry and the jobs it provides with the interests of environmentalists who are concerned about the long term impacts of hydraulic fracturing.
Get real: for months, news media in Minnesota have been reporting about counties and cities imposing moratoria because of problems created by the impactc of new industrial scale silica sand mining. While sand has been extracted in the area for years, this problem of scale is what's creating the problems; even if fracking itself were completely safe and without controversy, people in Hay Creek Township, Red Wing, Wabasha, Winona, Goodhue County, Wabasha County, Winona County, Houston County, Fillmore County, Olmsted County and other places in the state would still be seeking legislative relief.
To report otherwise is simply missing the story on the ground and at the capitol.
How will heavy truck traffic affect the life of county and townhip roads that aren't engineered for heavy traffic? Will they cause more accidents?
Is the dust created by the mining and processing process safe? If there are no established standards for safety, when will they be established? Who will do the monitoring? Who will pay for this?
Since the washing process requires large amounts of water--and chemicals as well--what guarantee do residents have that their wells won't go dry? Or be contaminated? Who will pay for the benchmarks for well quality?
In Wisconsin, a frac sand operation holding pond spilled into the St Croix River and the spill was undetected for days. Who will monitor holding ponds and water quality in the lakes, streams and rivers in the watersheds where frac sand mines and processing plants are located?
How will local environmental concerns--such as preservation of bluff and "goat prairie" eco-niches where threatened and endangered species dwell--be factored in? What value can be established for signature native landscapes themselves, like the river bluffs?
Will frac sand mining affect property values? Will it inhibit other forms of economic development, like the area's growing organic farming, tourism, real estate?
Given the burdens on local communities, will frac sand be subject to additional taxes to support the infrastructure costs of the industry to local and state goverment? Should a fee be charged mining companies to help with post-mining economic development, just as the taconite industry on the Range was taxed to fund the IRRRB?
While companies promise they will reclaim mines once they're finished with them, what should standards for water quality, land use, soil contamination and so on should be used for reclamation projects? How long can a mine lie idle in an industry that's someone boom and bust before it most be reclaimed?
Other than that, perhaps there are environmentalists somewhere who think the Minnesota legislature will be dealing with fracking.
As soon as we find them, we'll let readers and MPR know who they are.
Screenshot: MPR is confused about what the Minnesota legislature is being asked to consider. The focus is frac sand mining.
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