Last reviewed September 2014
Resources on Minnesota Issues
Silica (Frac) Sand Mining
Books and Reports
This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to Minnesota legislators. It is designed to provide an introduction to the topic, directing the user to a variety of sources, and is not intended to be exhaustive. In particular, it is focused on items available in the Legislative Reference Library.
Silica sand (also commonly referred to as frac sand) is a crucial ingredient in the oil and natural gas extraction process known as fracking. The hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") process for oil and gas takes a mixture of proppant (usually frac sand), water, and chemicals and injects this mixture into a well under very high pressure. Minnesota is not currently fracking for oil and gas, however some sand used for hydraulic fracturing is mined and processed in Minnesota. Most of the silica sand in Minnesota is found in the Minnesota River Valley and southeastern Minnesota. Industrial silica sand is also being mined from sandstone areas in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. There is interest in developing new industrial silica sand mines in Minnesota due to a rapid expansion of shale oil and gas development over the past decade and the use of the hydraulic fracturing extraction method.
Silica sand mining has become a divisive topic in the past few years. Advocates say the industry will bring jobs and economic development to the regions involved. Environmentalists and public health experts urge caution due to concerns over potential negative impacts of the fine silica sand dust on air and water quality. There are known health risks associated with airborne crystalline silica. Authority to plan for and regulate land use activities rests primarily with local government. Several southern Minnesota communities have passed moratoriums on mining in order to study the practice which has already become prevalent in parts of Wisconsin.
Minnesota legislators began to address the issue of silica sand mining during the 2013 Legislative Session. Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 114 requires a permit from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before excavation or mining of silica sand can take place in certain parts of the state. The DNR is directed to do extensive water studies of any frac sand mine located near a trout stream. The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) was asked to assemble a silica sand technical assistance team to provide local governments with assistance with ordinance development, zoning, environmental review and permitting, and other issues related to silica sand. The 2013 legislation further mandated the EQB, in consultation with local units of government, to develop model standards and criteria for mining, processing, and transporting silica sand that local governments may use when developing local ordinances. The EQB developed the model standards/"tools" and they were approved on March 19, 2014.
An interagency portal, the State of Minnesota Silica Sand Information website, gathers together information on what the EQB and the other five Minnesota agencies involved are doing to implement the 2013 legislation and manage the increasing activity of silica sand mining in Minnesota.
The 2013 Omnibus Environment bill, Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 114, article 4, sections 66, 91, 92, and 93 (HF976/SF1170), created four new sections of Minnesota Statute:
- 103G.217 requiring a silica sand mining trout stream setback permit for excavation or mining operations in Minnesota's driftless area.
- 116C.99 requiring the Environmental Quality Board (EQB)
to establish silica sand mining model standards. These standards were issued by the EQB in the report,
Assist Local Governments in Planning for and Regulating Silica Sand Projects, on March 7, 2014.
- 116C.991 requiring environmental reviews for silica sand projects.
- 116C.992 requiring the Environmental Quality Board, in consultation with local
units of government, to create and maintain a library on local government ordinances and local government permits that have been approved for regulation of silica sand projects for reference by local governments.
Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 114 article 4, section 105
directs the Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Health, and the Environmental Quality Board to adopt or amend
silica sand Rules.
On April 22, 2014, Governor Mark Dayton issued a statement concerning a frac sand moratorium in response to a request from residents of southeastern Minnesota for a moratorium on frac sand mining in their region.
Significant Books and Reports
(The Legislative Library's collection includes additional environmental impact studies (EIS) on proposed sand mines in Minnesota.)
Chapman, Emily, et. al. Communities At Risk: Frac Sand Mining in the Upper Midwest. Newton: Massachusetts, 2014. (TN939 .C43 2014)
Draft Model Standards and Criteria for
Mining, Processing, and Transporting Silica Sand. St. Paul: Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, 2013. (TN939 .D75 2013)
Dutzik, Tony. The Cost of Fracking: the Price Tag of Dirty Drilling's Environmental Damage.
Minneapolis: Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center, 2012. (TD195.G3 D88 2012)
Frac Sand Mining Industry Report. [Wisconsin]: Workforce Connections, Inc., 2012.
Kline, Aaron and David Osterberg. Digging Deeper on Frac Sand Mining: Industry Presents Water, Tourism Issues in Northeast Iowa.
Iowa: The Iowa Policy Project, 2014. (TN939 .K55 2014) (Background on both Wisconsin and Minnesota's approach to the frac sand industry is discussed and a comparison of Wisconsin and Minnesota state environmental regulations included).
The People's EIS
Scoping Report: Citizen Comments on the Necessary Scope and Depth of the Environmental Impact Statement
on the Minnesota Sands Frac Sand Proposal. Land Stewardship Project, 2013. (TN939.P46 2013)
Power, Thomas M. The Economic
Benefits and Costs of Frac-Sand Mining in West Central Wisconsin: Phase One of Study - General Economic &
Community Overview. Wisconsin: Power Consulting, Inc., 2013. (TN939 .P69 2013)
Report on Silica Sand: Final Report.
St. Paul: Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, 2013. (TN939.R47 2013)
Silica Sand Mining in Wisconsin
. Madison: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2012. (TN939 .S55 2012)
Tools to Assist Local Governments in
Planning for and Regulating Silica Sand Projects. St. Paul: Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, 2014. (TN939 .T66 2014)
Brown, Cassarah. "State Revenues and the Natural Gas Boom: An Assessment of State Oil and Gas Production Taxes". National Conference of State Legislatures, June 2013.
Davies, Phil. "Sand Surge: In Minnesota and Wisconsin, Frac Sand Mining has Lifted Local Economies and Stirred Opposition". Fedgazette, July 2012.
Dirr, Alison. "Frac-Sand Health Fears Rise as Mining Booms in Wisconsin". MinnPost, October 7, 2013.
"Frac Sand Fever: Continuing Series". Star Tribune, 2012-2013. (Described as: "A periodic Star Tribune series on the sand mining boom in Minnesota and Wisconsin as "hydro-fracking" revolutionizes the nation's oil and gas industry".)
"Fracking and Drinking Water Safety: Developing Natural Gas Through Hydraulic Fracturing". Congressional Digest, March 2012.
Greenhouse, Jeremy and Susan Wiens. "There's Sand in Them Thar Hills: Minnesota Races to Regulate Frac Sand Mining". Bench & Bar, April, 2014.
Juhl, Mary. "Frac Sand's Final Verdict Issued at State Capitol; No Moratorium or Taxes, But New State Council, Permit for Mines Near Trout Streams". Winona Daily News, May 22, 2013.
Keen, Judy. "Frac Mining's Pros and Cons: Debate Focuses on Southeastern Minnesota". MinnPost, July 10, 2013.
Koss, Geof. "Harnessing the Power of an Energy Revolution: the Natural-Gas Boom has Shifted America's Position in the Energy Economy. But Political and Environmental Challenges Remain". CQ Weekly, July 22, 2013.
Meador, Ron. "Frac-sand Mining Boom is Accelerating and Eluding Regulators, Analysis Finds". MinnPost, September 30, 2014.
Mertens, Richard. "A Midwest Storm Over Sand: Controversy Swirls Around Mining Sand for Fracking". The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, March 17, 2014.
Miley, William. "Assessing the Silica (Frac) Sand Mining Environmental Regulatory Frameworks in Minnesota and Wisconsin: Who Has a Better Plan for Digging, the Gophers or Badgers?" Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, Vol. 35, Issue 2, 2014.
Motilall, Christina. "Regulating the Sands of Silica". MN2020, May 21, 2013.
Panero, James. "The View from Marcellus: Fracking Brings Breathtaking Economic and Environmental Benefits—at Least to Places That Welcome It". City Journal, Summer 2013.
Tosto, Paul. "MPR News Primer: Frac Sand Mining". Minnesota Public Radio, March 8, 2012.
Younger, Sally. "Sand Rush: Fracking Boom Spurs Rush on Wisconsin Silica". National Geographic, July 3, 2013.
Significant Internet Resources
DNR and Silica Sand - This Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website provides frequently asked questions and answers on the topic.
Frac Sand Mining - Minnesota Public Radio provides background, maps, video, photos, and links to many news articles on the topic.
Hydraulic Fracturing: States Take Action - National Conference of State Legislatures, February 21, 2014.
Hydraulic Fracturing - A web page with background information from the Colorado office of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.
Industrial Sand Mining - Information from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Wisconsin has been labeled "the center of the frac sand boom".
Library of Local Government Ordinances & Permits Regulating Silica Sand - The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board was required by a 2013 mandate to create this website for reference by local governments. Their Silica Sand Projects site offers additional information.
Silica Sand Mining - The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's website provides background on the issue, locations of frac sands activities and sites in Minnesota, and information on air and water permitting.
Silica Sand Mining and Health - The Minnesota Department of Health's website discusses the possible health risks of exposure to silica sand particles from mining and provides communities with additional information on Health Impact Assessments (HIA).
Silica Sand Rulemaking Advisory Panel - Meeting information for the joint advisory panel consisting of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). The panel will provide input to the Minnesota agencies involved regarding regulation of silica sand operations in Minnesota.
State of Minnesota Silica Sand Information - The website is designed for people interested in what the state is doing to develop new rules for managing and permitting silica sand projects. Links are provided to each of the six state agencies involved with making the new rules or managing activities involved with the mining, transportation and processing of silica sand.
Additional Library Resources
For additional articles, check the following Inside Issues heading:
Mining Industries--Sand Mining
For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use this Library catalog search:
Sand gravel mines