RED WING, Minn. (AP) — An official with an oil exploration company that wanted to mine a special kind of sand in southeastern Minnesota expressed disappointment Wednesday about a vote by a county board for a one-year moratorium while it studies the potential environmental, health and financial impacts.
People filled a public hearing room in Red Wing for a meeting Tuesday night that lasted nearly three hours and included public comments from 20 people in support of the moratorium. No one spoke in opposition to the temporary ban, which Goodhue County Commissioner Jim Bryant said will give officials time to assemble an advisory board to study the impact.
“Is this really a good fit for us here?” Bryant said. “Maybe for some. Maybe in some areas but maybe not in other areas.”
Goodhue County is among several places in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan with deposits of “frac” sand, round grains of silica sand prized by the energy exploration industry, which uses it to extract fuel from underground rock in a process called hydraulic fracturing. Drillers pump a mix of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations to expand and weaken the natural fractures to unlock oil and gas. The process is transforming the domestic U.S. energy business.
The sand from sandstone formations along the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin has an ideal combination of grain size, strength to resist crushing pressures, purity and chemical inertness. Several companies are already mining in the region.
One company that would like to start is Windsor Energy Resources Inc., based in Oklahoma City, which is exploring for oil in the Permian Basin of west Texas. Its Windsor Permian subsidiary last year paid $2.6 million for 155 acres of woods, cornfields and bluffs two miles south of Red Wing near a small housing development and a protected trout stream in hopes of mining it for silica sand.
“We’re disappointed that the county board decided to impose a moratorium but we intend to comply with all the regulations that exist in Goodhue County for the future work that we do,” Chip Krohn, a geologist with the company, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. He said the company believes the county’s existing regulations are “more than sufficient” for the board to decide whether to approve or reject permits.
Krohn said Windsor is trying to find its own sources of frac sand because it’s a small, independent company that has had trouble at times securing an uninterrupted supply.
“Until we secure our own sources we’ll continue to purchase sand from third-party providers on the open market,” he said.
The debate in Goodhue County echoes those in small communities across western Wisconsin and southern Minnesota as dozens of companies acquire land to supply drill rigs from New York to Texas.
Earlier this month Wabasha County passed its own moratorium on sand mining, even though no project is planned there.
Jody McIlrath, a member of a citizens’ group opposed to sand mining, was elated with the Goodhue County Board’s decision.
“There’s such a laundry list of issues that have to be studied and researched in terms of health and environment,” McIlrath said. “The county will go through an extensive study of the impact that silica mining would have on natural resources and health issues and road and transportation concerns.”
Keith Fossen, who lives near Windsor’s property, said he wants more information on the impact of fracture drilling, which has drawn sharp criticism in several areas where it’s practiced.
“The work has just begun,” Fossen said. “Are we going to permit that kind of industrial mining in our county? If the answer is no, then how do we do that correctly? If the answer is yes, then how do we control it? How do we not let it impact the quality of our lives?”