Frac sand mining heats up
During these darkest days of winter, we participate in a flurry of celebrations and gatherings. To cheer ourselves up, distract from the dark months yet to come and celebrate Christmas, my friends and family gather together for music, food, fellowship and festivities. This year there is an extra yearning for these happy times, as our nation is engulfed in discord, abusive behavior and disregard for the less fortunate.
The one thing we cannot do is withdraw from our civic responsibility to participate in our own democracy.
You may recall news in past years about the threat of frac sand mining coming to Fillmore County. We have not yet seen the shaved-off hillsides, dust, water pollution and road damage that can come with frac sand mining, but that does not mean the issue is gone for good.
The first frac sand mine was permitted in Fillmore County in 2013. The Rein Mine near Highland has yet to gear up, but they are now seeking county board approval of additional hauling routes for 120 gravel trucks a day. Under consideration are County 12 west to Highway 52, and County 21 south from County 12 to Highway 52. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the additions, and the County Board is expected to make a decision in January.
The national explosion of oil and gas drilling in other states demands silica sand to “frack” the earth by hydraulic fracturing. Water, silica sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure to allow the gas to flow to the well head. The Trump administration killed rules that protect the environment from fracking, and is currently leasing out vast areas of public lands for more drilling.
We don’t have oil or gas in Minnesota, but we do have deposits of the special silica sand drillers want. By 2013, Wisconsin already had 131 frac sand facilities, and southeast Minnesota continues to be eyed for frac sand development.
Concerned citizens and county commissioners in Fillmore county got to work in 2012 and wrote sand mining regulations. Our ordinance is designed to allow modest development, and thereby prevent a repeat of Wisconsin’s massive problems. Sand processing is now prohibited here, and a maximum of five mines, each no more than 50 acres, would be allowed at any one time. Hauling routes must be approved and a daily load limit is in place.
The State Legislature went further in 2013 and required reclamation of all mine sites, plus extra scrutiny for any mine within a mile of a trout stream, to be administered by the state.
One company, Minnesota Sands LLC, was told by state agencies in 2013 to do a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposed processing site and cluster of five mines, including two sites in Fillmore County near Pilot Mound and several in Winona and Houston Counties. The company agreed to the study, but never submitted information, so it was not done.
This year Winona County completely banned new frac sand mines. That ban withstood a legal challenge by Minnesota Sands LLC in November. Houston County is continuing to discuss a ban. Fillmore County should follow suit.
Minnesota Sand’s president Rick Frick has asked the state to carve out one of his mines from the EIS requirement, the 50-acre Dabelstein site north of Lanesboro in Pilot Mound township. He wants to do a simpler environmental assessment on a single site, and not the full EIS on a whole interconnected proposal. This raises the threat of a piecemeal approach rather than looking at the whole operation, as he claims to have leases on 3,700 acre of sand deposits.
Between the Rein Mine seeking approval of additional haul routes, and the request to the state to skip an Environmental Impact Statement for a new sand mine near Pilot Mound, it is apparent that citizens and our representatives must pay attention to silica mining again.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In small pan melt 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter until browned. Pour into a mixing bowl.
Add and mix well: 1/2 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking powder, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Optional: add zest of one lemon.
Cover bowl and chill for several hours.
Dust work surface and dough with flour. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut small rounds with a cookie cutter or a the rim of a glass. Re-roll trimmings. Bake on flat cookie sheets, greased or covered with parchment paper, for about 10 minutes, until a light brown sandy color. Watch closely.
If desired, sprinkle hot cookies lightly with a mix of 2 tablespoons sugar and 1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Let cool on a rack or a paper bag.