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Fast-emerging frac sand industry slows

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There's been a lot of attention paid to what is often described as the fast-growing frac sand industry, but MPR reports that a slowdown has changed the appearance of places in southeast Minnesota that were booming a year ago.

The sand is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process of extracting oil and natural gas from deep below the earth's surface. But natural gas prices are down and so is demand for the sand, MPR reports. MPR visits a rail terminal in downtown Winona where so much frac sand once filled the terminal that residents dubbed it "Mt. Frac." Now the Modern Rail site sits empty, MPR says.

The pile of sand in Winona's downtown sparked controversy and debate, as it has in other areas of southeast Minnesota. The sag in gas prices and the lull in frac sand industry activity have given local and state leaders an opportunity to reassess rules and regulations.

Critics of the industry say the sand operations and sand transportion could pose health and environmental risks. Proponents downplay potential risks and say the industry creates valuable jobs.

State lawmakers have been considering several frac sand mining bills, including one that calls for a one-year moratorium.

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Protesters block frac sand trucks in Winona

About 30 people blocked the entrance to a loading terminal where semitrucks deliver frac sand to rail cars. The disruption comes on the heels of a similar protest last Thursday, the Winona Daily News reports.