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New state silica sand website open for public

Six state agencies have developed a website as a one-stop shop to learn what they are doing about regulating the mining, moving and processing of silica sand.

The new site, silicasand.mn.gov , was announced Monday by the Environmental Quality Board, the Minnesota departments of natural resources, health, transportation and agriculture, and the Pollution Control Agency.

Silica sand, found in large amounts in the bluff country of this region, as well as along the Minnesota River, is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In the process, the small, hard, round grains of sand are combined with water and chemicals then injected under high pressure deep underground in rocks that contain natural gas and oil. The mixture fractures the rock and the sand grains keep open small veins to release the energy.

The silica sand industry is much larger in Wisconsin. There are a few mines and processing plants in Minnesota, but there are efforts underway to open more mines and build places to ship sand mined in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Some people oppose the industry, saying it could pollute the area's air and water and cause health problems.


Last spring, the Minnesota Legislature directed the agencies to coordinate their work and develop a model ordinance for townships, cities and counties to regulate the industry.

"The growth of frac sand mining in Minnesota has presented complex environmental and economic issues," said Dave Frederickson, chairman of the EQB and commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

The Legislature gave the EQB, DNR and MPCA specific directions to create new rules, he said. The others are included because they have information, such as health impacts, related to silica.

The website will also list meetings and other upcoming events related to silica.

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