Lansing, Ia., is located near sizeable deposits of the highly specialized sand used for hydraulic fracturing. The growing demand for this sand, commonly referred to as “frac sand,” has spurred a mining boom that has created thousands of high-paying jobs throughout Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, Lansing and other northeastern Iowa communities have largely missed out on the sand mining boom because local governments, citing environmental concerns, have enacted restrictive ordinances and moratoria severely limiting the growth of the industry. The scientific evidence suggests local officials should embrace, not prohibit, sand mining.
Sand mining has fewer environmental impacts than other types of mining. This is a key reason why Bob Lima, the state geologist for Iowa, recently told Winneshiek County supervisors, “If you just come in and dig sand out, there is very little risk to the water,” noting there would be more impact from processing sand. Lima suggested trout fishing would not be harmed by sand mining because the St. Peter sandstone layer is not a big supplier of water to trout streams.
Allamakee County enacted an impossibly restrictive ordinance on sand mining, which for all intents and purposes prohibits sand mining in the county. Less onerous regulations would have allowed sand to be mined in an environmentally responsible way.
In addition to environmental concerns, the Allamakee County ordinance cites concerns the tourism industry in the area could be threatened by increased traffic caused by mining. In places like Lansing, however, tourism jobs are generally low-paying, seasonal jobs providing only part-time work for full-time residents.
Until all the storefronts in Lansing and other northeastern Iowa cities no longer have signs that say “Space Available,” local governments should reconsider their unscientific opposition to sand mining.