Do grassroots citizens' groups that have organized out of concerns about industrial-scale silica sand mining have any information worth sharing about the industry?
Not as far as the Minnesota House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee is concerned.
On Thursday, the committee administrator sent out this meeting notice:
From: Stephanie Lamphere [mailto:Stephanie.Lamphere@house.mn]
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 10:56 AM
To: Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy
Subject: 1-27-14 House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee Notice
Below please find a meeting notice and agenda for the Tuesday, January 27th meeting of the House Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy Committee.
COMMITTEE: Mining and Outdoor Recreation Policy
DATE: Tuesday, January 27th, 2015
TIME: 2:45pm - 4:30pm
MEETING ROOM: 10 State Office Building
CHAIR: Rep. Tom Hackbarth
AGENDA: Informational Hearing for Silica Sand Mining from Silica Sand Producers and State Agency Silica Sand Rule-Making Update.
Committee Administrator - Mining & Outdoor Recreation Policy
Minnesota House of Representatives
430 State Office Building
Given the intense controversy surrounding frac sand mining in Minnesota, this is an extraordinary way to define and frame "information" about the issue.
How intense is the controversy? The Rochester Post Bulletin reported in late December's Year in Review: Frac sand the big story in Houston County:
While there are no silica sand mines in Houston County, the possibility that one might open led to big headlines in 2014.
Houston County Auditor Char Meiners, who also is the Houston County Board of Commissioner's secretary, said frac-sand mining has taken up a lot of the board's time.
"Frac-sand has been huge, there has been a lot of controversy about that," she said. . . .
The article cites the Houston County Protectors, one of several regional groups citizens have created in response to their concerns.
On Wednesday, the Bluff Country Newspaper Group reported in Houston County commissioner proposes ban on frac sand mines:
Houston County Commissioner Dana Kjome asked the board during a regular meeting Jan. 13 to consider adding a new section to the county ordinance that controls silica sand mining.
“I've been working on some language on banning frac sand (mining),” Kjome said. “I have with me a proposal, and I'd like the county attorney to go over it...”
That document would not throw out the updated mining ordinance (section 27) that is currently making the rounds of public hearings. However, it would add a new amendment (section 28), Kjome stated.
“I've always been a ban guy... “ he added, citing a 3-2 vote which the board took on March 25, 2014. That motion approved looking into language to ban frac sand mining within the county even as another group worked in parallel to draw up a mining ordinance aimed at regulating the activity.
“I want to get some input from you guys,” Kjome said. “When we get to the end of the process we can vote on your ordinances and possibly vote on this as well.”
The draft of section 28 essentially leaves existing silica sand mines alone, while prohibiting new silica sand mining projects. In that regard, it would resemble a continuation of the current moratorium (actually an interim ordinance) on new silica sand mining permits, which is set to expire in March of 2015.
The size and scale of industrial frac sand mines is cited in the document as being problematic, as the introduction of section 28 states: “The proposed ban is justified by the industrial scale and harmful nature of 'silica sand projects.' The ban is justified because the mining and processing silica sand is more harmful than the mining and processing of aggregate limestone and dolomite. The proposed ban does not distinguish between different end uses of silica sand. The proposed ban does not attempt to prohibit silica sand intended to be sold and used (for) any specific purpose, including for hydraulic fracturing.”
The document also justifies a ban based on seven specific “findings” on aspects the county's zoning ordinance is intended to address, including: “to promote and protect the health, safety and general welfare... to preserve agricultural land, to conserve the scenic beauty of the county, and to conserve natural resources.”
For an overview of citizen frustration about the rule-making process, we recommend an article at the Pulitzer Prize Winning's Inside Climate News, Against the Grain: Minnesota's Long Slog Toward Dealing With Frac Sand. Also recommended: Wisconsin Watch's Frac sand news roundup: Are the go-go days over?
But however much their concerns are aired in local government hearings or the media, it appears that to Chairman Hackbarth, any information citizens groups might contribute simply doesn't matter. Perhaps someone might ask him why this is so.
Photo: What information about frac sand mining might this sign maker contribute? Photo from Houston County Protectors Sandpoint Times.
f you appreciate Bluestem Prairie, you can mail contributions (payable to Sally Jo Sorensen P.O. Box 108, Maynard MN 56260) or use the paypal button below:
Email subscribers can contribute via this link to paypal; use email sally.jo.sorensen at gmail.com as recipient.