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Frac sand mine gets approval from Winona County

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Winona County's board of commissioners approved a permit for the county's first frac sand mine Tuesday.

The Associated Press reports the board's 3 to 2 vote was a rebuff to critics who argued commissioners should wait for an appeals court to rule on whether a more detailed environmental analysis is needed.

The Nisbit mine will occupy about 20 acres. It's operator tells the Winona Daily News it could open later this month or in July. The newspaper reports the road to Tuesday's approval started with public hearings in October of 2011 and included a delay during the county's temporary moratorium on frac sand mines.

The fine-grained silica sand that's found in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin is used by the oil and natural gas industries in a process called hydraulic fracturing. The sand along with water and chemicals is blasted into rock to extract oil and gas that was not accessible through conventional drilling.

MPR reports the permit approved by Winona County includes 40 conditions that the Nisbit mine must meet. Some of those conditions involve keeping down the dust, noise, and erosion and meeting water quality standards.

The oil industry's use of silica sand led to a boom in demand. Some groups have called for a slowdown in the expansion of such mines to allow for more study of their effects on neighbors' health and the environment. Minnesota lawmakers last month rejected the idea of a statewide moratorium or ban on the mines, expressing confidence that the DNR permitting process will guard against environmental problems.

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