MPR's Daily Circuit outlines issues related to industrial sand mining in Debate continues on frac sand mining's health, environmental impact, but if you want to get the good stuff, tune in to MPR at 9:06 a.m. on Monday, March 25 to listen to Land Stewardship policy organizer Johanna Rupprecht talk about frac sand.
The Price of Sand: WI today, MN tomorrow?
Crossposted from the Twin Cities Daily Planet
"You can farm the same land over and over but once you mine it, it's gone," a Wisconsin woman told filmmaker Jim Tittle. Born and raised on a farm that's been in her family for generations, she represents one of the positions explored in his documentary, The Price of Sand, which focuses on Wisconsin conflict over silica mines, small towns and money — a conflict now playing out in southeastern Minnesota and in the Minnesota legislature.
The Price of Sand, an independently produced documentary examining the human and environmental costs of silica (frac) sand mining, was shown at an advance screening in Red Wing, Minnesota on March 22. The film, which offers a broad overview of some of the tough issues facing rural communities threatened by mining in the Upper Midwest, played to a packed audience at the Sheldon Theatre.
The Price of Sand will be screened in St. Paul on March 28, 7:00 p.m. at the Grandview Theater. A Q & A session with film director, Jim Tittle is scheduled after the screening. The documentary was selected for the MSP Film Festival in April and more screenings along with a DVD release will be coming soon. For more information about The Price of Sand, go to www.thepriceofsand.com.
Jim Tittle, the film's director, spoke at a Q & A session afterwards along with Minnesota State Senator Matt Schmit (DFL, Red Wing), and Jody McIlrath, representative for Save the Bluffs, a grass-roots organization based in Red Wing, Minnesota.
Tittle, a videographer by profession, started working on The Price of Sand two years ago after learning that an oil company had purchased land close to his mother's home in Hay Creek Township, south of Red Wing, Minnesota. Initially puzzled by the deal, Tittle soon discovered the company wasn't interested in oil but in silica (frac) sand, a commodity widely used by the oil and gas industry for the hydraulic-fracturing (or fracking) of shale and found in abundance in the blufflands of western Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, and northeastern Iowa. Concerned about what this might hold for the future of his hometown, Tittle began digging deeper into the subject and produced a series of YouTube videos featuring interviews with people living next door to mining operations across the river in western Wisconsin. These interviews became the foundation for his film.
Tittle carefully builds an argument against the sudden industrialization of small, close-knit agricultural communities in The Price of Sand. Over the course of the documentary, we meet the beleaguered residents of New Auburn, Knapp, Alma, McGregor, Maiden Rock, and Chippewa Falls. In the tiny village of Tunnel City, Wisconsin, the Connecticut-based, multi-national corporation, Unimin is constructing a 500-acre, open pit sand mine. One of its neighbors, an unfortunate woman who lives with her young family directly across the street from the mine, tells us it will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and there's nothing she can do about it. Like so many people Tittle interviewed in Wisconsin, she feels not only helpless but abandoned by public officials who would prefer to look the other way rather than challenge the status quo and restrict mining activities through zoning. Another unhappy resident sums the dilemma up nicely saying, "we place a high value on our freedom and these companies take advantage of that."
Beautifully shot and edited, The Price of Sand presents a cautionary tale for Minnesotans currently debating the issue of whether to regulate mining at the state and local level. The film begins and ends with a long sequence of aerial shots revealing wide-spread devastation caused by open pit mining. Throughout the documentary, one person after another speaks out on such difficult and thorny topics as the influence of big money on local politics; economic hardship and the promise of jobs; gag orders and media buzz; and the inevitable conflicts that arise when corporate interests compete for an unfair share of the pie in rural communities vulnerable to exploitation – all topics relevant for a discussion of Tittle's leading question: What is the true price of sand?
During the Q & A session after the screening, Senator Matt Schmit (DFL, Red Wing) announced that a bill he recently introduced in the Minnesota state legislature calling for more stringent controls on silica sand mining had passed committee deadlines and would be brought before the Minnesota House and Senate for further discussion. When asked if he backed Governor Mark Dayton's stated opposition to a proposed moratorium on mining, Schmit said he would continue to push for a one-year moratorium and supports an extension of a rule permitting the Environmental Quality Board to continue studying the issues.
This post was original published at the Twin Cities Daily Planet; published with permission via our content exchange agreement.
Screen shot from video trailer.