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State adopts new frac sand standards

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Minnesota communities in the heart of the frac sand boom now have new tools for regulating the industry.

After an hours-long hearing in Rochester Wednesday, the state Environmental Quality Board approved a new set of voluntary frac sand standards to address a wide range of issues, including the effect of mining operations on air quality, noise level, roads and bridges, as MPR News reports.

Minnesota has seen a surge in recent years in demand for its silica frac sand, which is key to the oil and natural gas extraction process called "fracking" or hydraulic fracturing. That's where pressurized water and chemicals are pumped into shale rock so the oil and natural gas can be mined.

The frac sand is very pure, durable and crush-resistant, and critical to North Dakota's energy boom.

The Star Tribune reports the intense growth in the region's frac sand industry has given rise to "more than 100 new facilities worth hundreds of millions of dollars in western Wisconsin and a frenzy of activity in southern Minnesota."

“I think we are in a good spot right now,” said Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, who spearheaded the passage of Minnesota’s first frac sand laws in 2013. “I think the EQB has done an admirable job.

After Wednesday's vote, some environmentalists and local officials were critical of the new standards, saying the guidelines didn't go far enough.

MPR News reports these included former state Rep. Ken Tschumper of La Crescent.

"Nowhere are there any tools for local governments to use in developing local ordinances, if they wanted, to prohibit silica sand mining," Tschumper said. "I would argue that there could have been."

Houston County is among those considering permanently banning new frac sand mining and currently has a moratorium until March 2015.

Environmental groups say frac sand mining is harmful to rural communities and needs tighter regulations.

And the Land Stewardship Project  is calling on Gov. Mark Dayton to use the Critical Areas Act to enact a moratorium on frac sand mining in southeast Minnesota for two years.

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