Winona County just became the first in MN to ban frac sand mining

No more frac sand mining in Winona County.
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A sand mine in Wisconsin.

A sand mine in Wisconsin.

Winona County is the first county in Minnesota to ban frac sand mining.

Frac sand is a specific type of sand made up of tiny pieces of quartz, according to Earthworks. It's used by drilling companies to prop open cracks underground so that oil and gas can be extracted.

The sand is combined with water and chemicals and sprayed underground in a process called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for short.

The special silica sand can only be found in certain places, and southeastern Minnesota – where Winona County is – has a lot of it.

On Tuesday, the Land Stewardship Program (LSP) announced the Winona County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of a ban on "new frac sand mining, processing, storage or transport operations."

It passed with a 3-2 vote.

Prior to that, the LSP led a 17-month campaign, calling for the ban.

“We felt a ban was needed for the health and well-being of people and the environment,” resident Barb Nelson said in a statement.

Environmental and health concerns

Frac sand mining brings about some environmental and health concerns.

Stirring up the silica sand can cause air pollution and put people at risk of developing a lung disease called silicosis.

The American Lung Association says the disease happens because silica particles can cause scarring in the lungs and make breathing difficult.

It also puts people at a higher risk of developing cancer.

The Minnesota Department of Health says mining can also impact water. Any mine can create a pathway for chemicals and bacteria to get into water.

Mining can also cause nearby groundwater wells to have lower levels of water or even dry up.

Earthworks says there are alternatives to using frac sand. Oil and gas fracking can also be done with manufactured ceramic beads and hemp. Some places have even experimented with sandless fracking.

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