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Nov 12, 2011

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Michael Scullin

Editor's note: An interesting comment. As I've noted a number of times (including this post : http://www.bluestemprairie.com/bluestemprairie/2011/06/connecting-the-dots-on-fracking-sand-from-hay-creek-townships-citizens-to-the-new-york-times.html), I grew up near St. Peter and am familiar with the battles over Ottawa and Kasota. See the post for satellite photos of the Ottawa and Kasota mines.

The comments:

With very few exceptions sand is silica (quartz) sand. Fracking sand is valuable to oil and gas companies because of the size of the sand particles (large) which allow mysterious chemicals (mysterious because the oil and gas people do not want to reveal just what they are pumping into the ground) to penetrate the sand and, when pressure is applied, to fracture the surrounding rock. This, in turn, allows the gas or oil to flow through the fractured rock and be extracted (usually both gas and oil are extracted and often the gas is just flared off). One “byproduct” of the process is the used fracking fluid and another may be very salty water (much oil and gas being associated with salt deposits). This combination of salt water and franking fluid is then “disposed of” as inexpensively as possible. This may mean, for just one example, that large areas of eastern Wyoming are being devastated (out of sight out of mind to most of us). Western Pennsylvania is currently in the midst of a fracking versus the local population and the environment. So far the franking faction seems to be winning (surprise). Energy companies have never (that’s an absolute) been responsible citizens (now that the Supreme Court has ruled that they are citizens).

It is therefore remarkable that back in the 1970s when Unimin was planning a big sand mining pit at Kasota (just southeast of St. Peter) a band of really dedicated local environmentalists managed to wring a concession from Unimin that we today know as Kasota Prairie, one of the best prairie sites in southern Minnesota.

The point being that organized opposition can make a difference. The St. Peter Formation underlies much of the area and is the source of the sand so perfect for fracking operations. The Oil and gas companies will not give up and will eventually find a spot where opposition is not organized and local politicians can enticed and influenced by the money. Oil and gas has no shortage of that commodity. But opposition can be effective. Landscape matters. Thousands of tons of sand require thousands of truckloads. Try that in your quiet countryside.

There is a very good article in the April 25th issue of the New Yorker on oil development in western North Dakota which explains in detail the process of fracking which out there is creating an oil boom. The demand for sand will only increase as new drilling technologies come increasingly to rely on it. Fight it now.

Michael Scullin (formerly of Mankato)

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