With Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s new budget including assistance for the sand mining industry, a controversial frac sand operation near the Lower Wisconsin River is moving closer to approval. The town of Bridgeport Planning Commission has approved a conditional use permit for Pattison Sand Co. of Clayton, Iowa, to locate a mine near the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, setting up a final vote by the Town Board on March 27. Mine opponents packed the Bridgeport Town Hall for the commission meeting recently, but were given little opportunity to speak during the three-hour hearing, according to reports.
Companion bills in the Minnesota House and Senate addressing environmental and health concerns related frac sand mining have been approved by policy committees and now move to finance panels. Votes to move the bills forward have been mostly along party lines, with Republicans mostly opposed. The silica sand has been mined for years in Minnesota, but because it’s now used in hydraulic fracturing to produce oil and gas, demand is increasing dramatically and Minnesota communities are coping with the increased activity. Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, said neither the state nor local governments are ready for a rapid increase in permit requests for new mines. He is the sponsor of a bill that would set up a technical advisory council to help local governments deal with frac sand mining health and environmental questions
Tony Runkel, chief geologist of the Minnesota Geological Survey, told Minnesota Public Radio in a live chat session that “From an industry perspective, especially supply and demand, which are outside my area of expertise, I think it is important to recognize that some recent projections indicate that the boom in silica mining expansion may already peaked, at least for the near term. Some analyses from Wisconsin indicate that the mines now already permitted in that state alone may be able to meet demand in the near future.”