The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a lower-court ruling that found Winona County’s ban on frac-sand mining was neither an unconstitutional limitation on interstate commerce nor a governmental “taking’ of private property without compensation.
The Winona County Board adopted Minnesota’s first countywide ban on the mining of silica sand, a key component used to fracture shale rock to extract oil and natural gas, in 2016.
Minnesota Sands, a mining company which owned mineral rights in the county, sued to overturn the ban, arguing it discriminates against its business because the county continues to allow mining for construction sand used on roadways and for other commercial purposes.
In a statement, Minnesota Sands wrote it was “extremely disappointed” by the July 30 ruling and may appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
James M. Taylor, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says the frac-sand ban was driven by environmental activists’ hatred for fossil fuels, not by local concerns.
“This is the very definition of over-intrusive government and judicial activism run amok,” said Taylor. “An ordinance that allows mining, and also allows sand mining for local construction, but bans sand mining for hydraulic fracturing, is clearly designed as an environmental activist end run to shut down U.S. energy production.
“Any fair-minded court would overturn this decision,” Taylor said. “In the meantime, the Minnesota legislature can certainly pass legislation putting a stop to such local government deprivation of individual freedom.”
‘Typical of NIMBY’
Tim Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, says mining does not endanger the local environment or property values.
“Many criticisms of frac-sand mining are typical of NIMBY [not in my back yard] movements, and bans on the practice disregard the numerous studies from regulatory agencies and research groups which conclusively show silica sand mining operations pose virtually no public health risks,” Benson said. “Mining is an indispensable part of life, and no part of the practice will threaten property values, scenic beauty, or tourism in Winona County.
“Hopefully, residents there will eventually take a more emotionally measured look at mining and rescind this ban,” said Benson.
‘Based on Terrible Science’
Isaac Orr, a Center of the American Experiment policy fellow who coauthored a series of studies analyzing the benefits and costs of frac-sand mining for The Heartland Institute, says Winona’s ban was based on political, not scientific, concerns.
“The frac-sand mining ban is based on terrible science, and there is really no scientific justification for it,” said Orr. “A majority of the county board simply decided they didn’t like the end-use for the sand—oil and gas production—but they were going to allow it for other purposes like livestock bedding or construction aggregate, so it’s just a bad policy.
“There’s no fracking in Minnesota because the state doesn’t have any oil and gas, but it does have the sand used in the fracking process, so this was an indirect way for local anti-fossil fuel activists to restrict an activity they don’t like,” Orr said.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
Isaac Orr and Mark Krumenacher, “Air Quality and Industrial Sand (Frac Sand) Mining,” The Heartland Institute, April 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/air-quality-and-industrial-sand-frac-sand-mining