Last reviewed May 2020
Minnesota Issues Resource Guides
Silica (Frac) Sand Mining
This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to state legislators. It introduces the topic and points to sources for further research. It is not intended to be exhaustive.
Legislative History • Books and Reports • Articles • Internet Resources • Additional Resources
Silica sand (also commonly referred to as frac sand) is a crucial ingredient in the oil and natural gas extraction process known as fracking. The hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") process for oil and gas takes a mixture of proppant (usually frac sand), water, and chemicals and injects this mixture into a well under very high pressure. Minnesota is not currently fracking for oil and gas, however some sand used for hydraulic fracturing is mined and processed in Minnesota. Most of the silica sand in Minnesota is found in the Minnesota River Valley and southeastern Minnesota. Industrial silica sand is also being mined from sandstone areas in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. There is interest in developing new industrial silica sand mines in Minnesota due to a rapid expansion of shale oil and gas development over the past decade and the use of the hydraulic fracturing extraction method.
Silica sand mining has been a divisive topic in Southern Minnesota. Advocates claimed the industry would bring jobs and economic development to the regions involved. Environmentalists and public health experts urged caution due to concerns over potential negative impacts of the fine silica sand dust on air and water quality. There are known health risks associated with airborne crystalline silica. Authority to plan for and regulate land use activities rests primarily with local governments. Goodhue and Wabasha Counties passed moratoriums on sand mining in late 2011 in order to study the practice which had already become prevalent in parts of Wisconsin.
Minnesota legislators addressed the issue of silica sand mining during the 2013 Legislative Session. Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 114 requires a permit from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before excavation or mining of silica sand can take place in certain parts of the state. The DNR is directed to do extensive water studies of any frac sand mine located near a trout stream. The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) was asked to assemble a silica sand technical assistance team to provide local governments with assistance with ordinance development, zoning, environmental review and permitting, and other issues related to silica sand. The 2013 legislation further mandated the EQB, in consultation with local units of government, to develop model standards and criteria for mining, processing, and transporting silica sand that local governments may use when developing local ordinances. The EQB developed the model standards/"tools" and they were approved on March 19, 2014.
Due in part to the legislative and regulatory changes put in place in 2013 and 2014, and to a slowing demand for silica sand, mining project approvals have been minimal in recent years. In November 2016, Winona County commissioners voted to ban frac sand mining in their southeastern area of the state, making it the first county in Minnesota to take such a position. A four-year battle between the Winona County Board and the sand mine business Minnesota Sands ensued. The Minnesota Supreme Court on March 11, 2020 upheld Winona County's ban on frac sand mining (A-18-0090), concluding that the 2016 ban did not infringe on Minnesota Sands' rights.
The 2013 Omnibus Environment bill, Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 114, article 4, sections 66, 91, 92, and 93 (HF976/SF1170), created four new sections of Minnesota Statute:
- 103G.217 requiring a silica sand mining trout stream setback permit for excavation or mining operations in Minnesota's driftless area.
- 116C.99 requiring the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to establish silica sand mining model standards. These standards were issued by the EQB in the report, Tools to Assist Local Governments in Planning for and Regulating Silica Sand Projects, on March 7, 2014 (Updated January 5, 2017).
- 116C.991 requiring environmental reviews for silica sand projects.
- 116C.992 requiring the Environmental Quality Board, in consultation with local units of government, to create and maintain a library on local government ordinances and local government permits that have been approved for regulation of silica sand projects for reference by local governments.
Laws of Minnesota 2013, chapter 114 article 4, section 105 directs the Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Health, and the Environmental Quality Board to adopt or amend silica sand Rules.
On April 22, 2014, Governor Mark Dayton issued a statement concerning a frac sand moratorium in response to a request from residents of southeastern Minnesota for a moratorium on frac sand mining in their region.
By Minnesota Laws 2019, 1st Special Session, Chapter 4, Article 3, Section 108, the legislature replaced the MN Department of Natural Resources' rulemaking authority with a requirement that the DNR develop a model ordinance. The DNR intends to use material from the rule development efforts for that new purpose.
Significant Books and Reports
(The Legislative Library's collection includes additional environmental impact studies (EIS) on proposed sand mines in Minnesota.)
Chapman, Emily, et. al. Communities At Risk: Frac Sand Mining in the Upper Midwest. Newton: Massachusetts, 2014. (TN939 .C43 2014)
Draft Model Standards and Criteria for Mining, Processing, and Transporting Silica Sand. St. Paul: Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, 2013. (TN939 .D75 2013)
Dutzik, Tony. The Cost of Fracking: the Price Tag of Dirty Drilling's Environmental Damage. Minneapolis: Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center, 2012. (TD195.G3 D88 2012)
Frac Sand Mining Industry Report. [Wisconsin]: Workforce Connections, Inc., 2012.
Kline, Aaron and David Osterberg. Digging Deeper on Frac Sand Mining: Industry Presents Water, Tourism Issues in Northeast Iowa. Iowa: The Iowa Policy Project, 2014. (TN939 .K55 2014) (Background on both Wisconsin and Minnesota's approach to the frac sand industry is discussed and a comparison of Wisconsin and Minnesota state environmental regulations included).
The People's EIS Scoping Report: Citizen Comments on the Necessary Scope and Depth of the Environmental Impact Statement on the Minnesota Sands Frac Sand Proposal. Land Stewardship Project, 2013. (TN939.P46 2013)
Power, Thomas M. The Economic Benefits and Costs of Frac-Sand Mining in West Central Wisconsin: Phase One of Study - General Economic & Community Overview. Wisconsin: Power Consulting, Inc., 2013. (TN939 .P69 2013)
Report on Silica Sand: Final Report. St. Paul: Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, 2013. (TN939.R47 2013)
Silica Sand Mining in Wisconsin. Madison: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2012. (TN939 .S55 2012)
Tools to Assist Local Governments in Planning for and Regulating Silica Sand Projects. St. Paul: Minnesota Environmental Quality Board, Updated January 5, 2017. (TN939.T66 2017)
(articles in reverse chronological order)
Osipovich, Alexander and Ryan Dezember. "There’s No Oil in Wisconsin. The Fracking Bust Hit It Anyway." The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2020.
Hughlett, Mike. "Owner of Minnesota's Largest Frac Sand Mine Files for Bankruptchy: Covia Holdings Idled its Kasota Mine Near St. Peter Last Fall." Star Tribune, July 1, 2020.
Hughlett, Mike. "Minnesota, Wisconsin Frac Sand Mines Crushed by Oil Industry Shifts: The Midwest's Industry was Already in Upheaval When the New Downturn Struck." Star Tribune, March 28, 2020.
McKinney, Matt. "Minnesota Supreme Court Upholds Winona County Ban on Frac Sand Mining." Star Tribune, March 11, 2020.
Holmes, Isiah. "The Frac Sand Industry's Migration out of Wisconsin." Wisconsin Examiner, January 8, 2020.
"Standards Update: Respirable Crystalline Silica in General Industry." Safety Lines, July 2018, p. 3-4.
McKinney, Matt. "Winona County Ban on Frac Sand Mining Challenged at Court of Appeals: Judges Weigh Appeal of 2016 Frac Ban; Sand Company Says Its Value "Eviscerated." Star Tribune, May 10, 2018.
Olson, Glen. "A Second Suit Against Winona County Alleges Sand Mining Ban Unfair." Winona Daily News, June 19, 2017.
Davis, Charles E. "Shaping State Fracking Policies in the United States: An Analysis of Who, What, and How." State and Local Government Review, June, 2017.
"LSP Joins in Legal Defense of Winona County Frac Sand Ban: Corporate Interests' Lawsuit is Last-Ditch Effort to Undo County Board's Decision." The Land Stewardship Letter, No. 2, 2017, p. 15.
Zamora, Karen. "Winona County Passes Frac Sand Ban, First in the State to Take Such a Stand: After Debate Over Jobs and Land, the Ban Passed 3-2." Star Tribune, November 22, 2016.
Mohr, Jonathan. "Committee's Silica Sand Hearing Mines Deep Emotions." Session Daily, January 28, 2015.
Greenhouse, Jeremy and Susan Wiens. "There's Sand in Them Thar Hills: Minnesota Races to Regulate Frac Sand Mining." Bench & Bar, April 2014.
Mertens, Richard. "Next Fracking Controversy: In the Midwest, a Storm Brews Over 'Frac Sand'." The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, March 17, 2014.
Miley, William. "Assessing the Silica (Frac) Sand Mining Environmental Regulatory Frameworks in Minnesota and Wisconsin: Who Has a Better Plan for Digging, the Gophers or Badgers?" Hamline Journal of Public Law and Policy, Vol. 35, Issue 2, 2014.
Dirr, Alison. "Frac-Sand Health Fears Rise as Mining Booms in Wisconsin." MinnPost, October 7, 2013.
Keen, Judy. "Frac Mining's Pros and Cons: Debate Focuses on Southeastern Minnesota." MinnPost, July 10, 2013.
Younger, Sally. "Sand Rush: Fracking Boom Spurs Rush on Wisconsin Silica." National Geographic, July 3, 2013.
Brown, Cassarah. "State Revenues and the Natural Gas Boom: An Assessment of State Oil and Gas Production Taxes." National Conference of State Legislatures, June 2013.
Panero, James. "The View from Marcellus: Fracking Brings Breathtaking Economic and Environmental Benefits—at Least to Places That Welcome It." City Journal, Summer 2013.
Juhl, Mary. "Frac Sand's Final Verdict Issued at State Capitol; No Moratorium or Taxes, But New State Council, Permit for Mines Near Trout Streams." Winona Daily News, May 22, 2013.
Davies, Phil. "Sand Surge: In Minnesota and Wisconsin, Frac Sand Mining has Lifted Local Economies and Stirred Opposition." Fedgazette, July 2012.
"Frac Sand Fever: Continuing Series." Star Tribune, December 21, 2012. ("Frac Sand Fever is an occasional series by Star Tribune reporters on the sand-mining boom that has developed in Minnesota and Wisconsin, as "hydro-fracking'' revolutionizes the nation's oil and gas industry.")
Tosto, Paul. "MPR News Primer: Frac Sand Mining." Minnesota Public Radio, March 8, 2012.
"Fracking and Drinking Water Safety: Developing Natural Gas Through Hydraulic Fracturing". Congressional Digest, March 2012.
Significant Internet Resources
Crystalline Silica in Air & Water, and Health Effects - The Minnesota Department of Health's website discusses the possible health risks of exposure to silica sand particles and provides communities with additional information on Health Impact Assessments (HIA).
DNR and Silica Sand - This Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website provides frequently asked questions and answers on the topic, as well as details on the DNR's role in silica sand related projects.
Frac Sand Mining - Minnesota Public Radio provides background, maps, video, photos, and links to many news articles on the topic.
Hydraulic Fracturing: States Take Action - National Conference of State Legislatures, February 21, 2014.
Industrial Sand Mining Overview - Information from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; Wisconsin has been labeled "the center of the frac sand boom".
Library of Local Government Ordinances & Permits Regulating Silica Sand - The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board was required by a 2013 mandate to create this website for reference by local governments. Their Silica Sand Projects site offers additional information.
Silica Sand Mining - The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's website provides background on the issue, locations of frac sands activities and sites in Minnesota, and information on air and water permitting. Information regarding air monitoring can be found at their website: Air monitoring at Minnesota silica sand facilities.
Silica Sand Rulemaking Advisory Panel - The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) formed this joint advisory panel in 2014 to provide input to the agencies regarding regulation of silica sand operations in Minnesota. The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board also participated in the advisory panel process to receive advice on rules related to silica sand environmental review. The last scheduled meeting of the panel was in February 2015.
Additional Library Resources
For additional articles, check the following Inside Issues heading:
Mining Industries--Sand Mining
For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use this Library catalog search:
Sand gravel mines