Two factors will be driving ever greater intensification of frac sand mining pressures in our beautiful river valley:
The price of natural gas is projected to rise again, due to decline rates of shale gas fields, the switch of vehicles to natural gas and offshore shipments of liquified natural gas.
Estimates of the oil and gas reserves available in the Great Plains shale have just doubled, and our frac sand is right next door.
This means an increasing rate and duration of fracking operations, which will again cause demand for proppants to boom. Our frac sand will be worth more and, until a cheap and effective artificial proppant is available, pressure to mine it here will only intensify. Demand will be long term and methods will become increasingly invasive and destructive.
This makes efforts at the Minnesota capitol - for significant protections - that much more critical.
But it is the protections that only local ordinance restrictions on mining can provide that will ultimately determine where mining will take place and how destructive these methods will be. Local authority and effective enforcement of these ordinances is determined by anticipating and documenting potential impacts to the health, welfare and safety of our communities. This is the purpose of "study" committees.
The Goodhue County Mining Study Committee report draft contains a finding that there is no significant difference between frac sand and aggregate mining operations. This finding contradicts both the facts and common sense. But the biggest problem with this "finding," which is defended by mining experts on the committee, is that it undermines enforcement of the very ordinance that the study committee is charged to review and write.
If there is "no signficant difference" between industrial scale frac sand mining operations and those of existing construction grade sand and gravel operations, what is the basis for enforcing the many good provisions in the ordinance? What is the basis for exercising the authority granted in the provisions that the county "may" be more restrictive for silica sand mining operations?
The only rationale mentioned in this section of the report is "concerns about health."
But where does the committee's report specify or document these "health concerns" (as anything other than rabble rousing of the citizenry)? And why has the report failed to address the first item on the County Board's list of charges to the committee: social and economic impacts? This item was sent back for further development, because the first report analysis asserted, once again without evidence, that there would be no significant differences between the impacts of existing mining operations and those of silica sand mining.
We have only one change to get this right. When the ordinance is passed, the moratorium will be lifted.
The Goodhue County Mining Study Committee has done a great deal of good work. The public process is significantly improved from the last round.
The individual meetings with the townships and the concluding gathering of townships to review the conclusions of the draft report and ordinance provisions were well timed and expertly conducted. Members of the study committee and commissioners were in attendance. The question-answer periods in these sessions revealed that the county contains a diversity of opinions on the desirability of frac sand mining in the county's very diverse landscapes.
But the facts remain.
1. If there were no difference between construction aggregate and silica sand operations, silica sand would not be classified, labeled and strictly regulated as a highly hazardous material.
2. The industry doesn't need our sand. Manufactured artificial proppants are available, and they are 30 percent more effective.
The only reason these mine are devastating our river valley landscapes is that "the price of sand" is cheaper. That is, for them, not for us.