Minnesota is known as the land of ten thousand lakes. The Northeastern part of the state contains the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Superior National Forest, and Voyageurs National Park- pristine areas with extremely high quality waters hydrologically interconnected in an expansive web of streams, rivers, wetlands, and aquifers. It is this interconnectedness, that makes the series of open pit mines proposed for the region especially dangerous for the ecosystem.
Last month I visited Wisconsin’s booming silica sand mining region and saw sandstone bluffs strip-mined for sturdy quartz sand that’s essential for the horizontal hydraulic fracturing process used to extract oil and gas from underground shale formations. I saw how residents there had little protection against silica dust exposure since Wisconsin has no regulatory standards for this relatively new mining industry. (Read my earlier column about it here.)
After Wisconsin, I headed across the Mississippi River to the southeastern corner of Minnesota. The industry is pretty active here too, with several mines and loading facilities and many more proposed, but so is the citizenry, which has been pushing the state to regulate frac sand mines and processing facilities.
In March, I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Abbas and Robert Nehman of Allamakee County Protectors at the national Frack Attack summit in Dallas, Texas. This grassroots group of concerned Iowans is leading the fight against frac sand mining in Iowa.
My organization, Earthworks, has a 25-year history of fighting the destructive impacts of mining and the oil and gas industry. After Abbas and Nehman spoke to me about the damage this relatively new mining industry was wreaking in some parts of the country, I wanted to see the impacts for myself. So earlier this month I spent two days on the road in Wisconsin’s Frac Sand Land.