A temporary statewide moratorium on frac sand mining in Minnesota passed the Senate Energy and Environment committee by an 8-4 vote Tuesday.
Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, introduced a bill that calls for a freeze on new silica sand mines until the industry's impact can be studied further. In addition to the temporary sand mining moratorium, SF 786 calls for a generic environmental impact statement to help write stronger mining permits.
Silica sand is used in hydraulic fracturing -- commonly known as fracking -- to get natural gas and oil out of the ground.
Opponents of the bill, including the Ready Mix Association, said it will wipe out years of local control over mining. Schmit disagrees, saying his proposal strikes a balance between the desire for local control while giving the state some authority.
"I believe there's going to be some tremendous ramifications if we go forward with this bill," warned Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont.
Established mining companies that argue local laws are sufficient for the permitting process agree that the move could have broad economic impacts for the region.
"It will lock Minnesota out of the energy revolution that's going on in the country," predicted Scott Sustacek, of Jordan Sands. "You will see the investment and jobs that we could create here go to Wisconsin."
SF 786 is Sen. Schmit's first bill as a lawmaker, and it would establish both a board to generate regional permitting standards as well as a scientific advisory team that cities can consult on mining permit applications.
The bill will now move onto the Local Government Committee.
Just one week before the committee vote, bus loads of people from southeast Minnesota drove to the Capitol to urge lawmakers to pass the bill, saying a lot of local towns and cities are feeling overwhelmed by the number of mining proposals and want a short time-out to make sure it's done right.
"I know there will be permits for the industry. The question is: Do we do it before the damage is done or after the damage is done?" asked Bobby King, of the Land Stewardship Project.
Across western Wisconsin and even some portions of Minnesota, silica sand mines are riding the revolution in oil and natural gas production. In Winona alone, seven companies are either mining, washing or transporting the sand.