Minnesota County Rejects Permanent Ban on Frac Sand Mining

Published April 10, 2015

County Commissioners in Houston County, Minnesota voted to reject a permanent ban on frac sand mining by a 3-2 margin. Passage of the ban would have required a 4-1 vote in favor.

Frac sand is a special type of sand perfectly suited for hydraulic fracturing, the technology that has made the United States the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world. The sand helps keep open the fissures caused by fracking so oil or natural gas can be extracted. A three-year-old county moratorium on sand mining currently remains in place, preventing mining of the large deposits of frac sand found on properties in Houston County.

The results of the vote in early March came despite the raucous antics of environmental activists who packed the public meeting. Several anti-mining protestors were ejected from the meeting by sheriff’s deputies because of their disruptive behavior.

Decision ‘Based on Facts’

A statement distributed by Teresa Walter, one of the three Houston County Commissioners who voted against the ban, said she spent the last three years researching and learning all she could about the frac sand industry. “I felt I was elected to make decisions based on facts and what would be best for the Health, Welfare and safety of Houston County,” she said in her statement. “My decision was to support a strong, regulatory mining and extraction ordinance presented from the study group and the Planning and Zoning commission.”

Air-monitoring results from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have found sand mining has not decreased air quality in Minnesota.

Walter says she does not believe the small, vocal group of people seeking a ban represents the wishes of most Houston County residents. “From what I am hearing around the county most people do not want a ban only regulation and the minority who come every week are a small part,” said Walter.

Some in this minority have made the their crusade against frac sand mining personal, Walter says. “I am receiving threats asking me to resign or get recalled and called incompetent on radio ads and in editorials. It does affect me, of course,” she said.

Despite the recent vote, development of an ordinance allowing environmentally responsible frac sand mining in Houston County remains stalled by County Commissioners Dana Kjome and Justin Zmyewski, who say they will only support an outright ban. As a result, the current moratorium remains in place.

Isaac Orr ([email protected]) is a research fellow for energy and environmental policy at The Heartland Institute.