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Minn. silica bill with moratorium passes 1st stop

St. Paul, MN (AP) — State senators are leaning toward halting new silica sand mines while the state studies the health and environmental costs of the booming industry.

The Senate Energy and Environment committee on Tuesday passed a bill, 8-4, to establish firm oversight of silica sand mining. It includes a one-year moratorium on new permits.

Demand for silica sand has grown with the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in oil and gas production in western North Dakota and other states. Drillers mix the sand with water and other chemicals and pump it down into wells, propping open cracks so that oil and natural gas can flow out. The hills and bluffs of western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota hold easy-to-mine deposits of highly pure silica sand that is the ideal size, shape and hardness for fracking.

Sen. Matt Schmit’s bill also calls for the creation of a regional board to regulate mining and a statewide environmental study to gauge the industry’s effects on air, water and roads. Schmit said the bill helps county and city governments oversee silica mining.

Sen. Michelle Benson, a Ham Lake Republican, said she worries the moratorium will stop mining companies from expanding in Minnesota. She and the other three Republicans on the committee voted against the bill.

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