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Minnesota Governor Declines to Enact Frack Sand Mining Ban

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has turned down calls to enact a two-year moratorium on silica sand mining in the southeastern part of the state, saying he doesn't have the authority to implement such a ban.

Last Tuesday, the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), a nonprofit devoted to farmland and agricultural issues, delivered a petition to Dayton's office with more than 6,000 signatures calling for a two-year moratorium on frack sand mining and tougher statewide regulations on the practice. The sand would support hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in other states.

Dayton's press secretary Matt Swenson said that during the 2013 legislative session, Dayton strongly supported a moratorium on frack sand mining in southeastern Minnesota.

"Unfortunately, that proposal was not supported by the Minnesota Legislature," Swenson said. "Legal counsel has advised that, absent legislative enactment of the moratorium, the governor lacks the authority to unilaterally impose his own moratorium."

But Swenson added that state law has empowered localities to enact their own moratoriums on frack sand mining and processing within their jurisdictions. "Citizens living in those areas should urge those local officials to enact the measures they favor," he said.

Dayton is a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, which is affiliated with the national Democratic party.

LSP contends that frack sand mining is a threat to the environmentally sensitive karst geology found in southeastern Minnesota, as well as the region's farms and streams. The organization had also argued that Dayton has the authority to enact a ban under the state's Critical Areas Act.

"Areas like southeastern Minnesota are grappling with attempts by the frack sand mining industry to strip-mine thousands of acres of farmland and natural areas to supply raw material for hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas supplies," LSP said in comments attributed to its policy organizer, Bobby King. "Farms and other rural landscapes in western Wisconsin are being decimated by frack sand mining and processing operations, with air and water pollution on the rise and destruction of topsoil commonplace."

Frack sand mining has been booming in neighboring Wisconsin (see Shale Daily, Feb. 5). The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported in January 2012 that sand mining is mostly taking place in the western part of the state, from Burnett and Chippewa counties to Trempealeau, Jackson and Monroe counties.

"Frack sand for use in the petroleum industry has been produced in Wisconsin for over 40 years," DNR said at the time. "However, the demand for frack sand has increased exponentially in the past two to three years. Wisconsin has approximately 60 mining operations involved in extraction of frack sand and approximately 30 processing facilities operating or under construction."

According to data from the website WisconsinWatch.org, there were 34 standalone frack sand mines operating in the state in October 2013, including one underground mine. The website also listed 25 mines with processing plants, including one that had an underground mine, and 18 standalone processing plants, seven of which also included rail loading facilities.

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