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Shedding light on frac sand concerns (03/18/2012)
By John Edstrom

It is difficult, amid the uproar over the issue of frac sand mining and transportation, to get a grip on what the realistic concerns are, and whether they have been or are being addressed. An article in last Sunday’s Minneapolis Tribune cited fears that our children would be run over by the marauding frac trucks – errant nonsense, of course.

Concerns regarding air quality and wear and tear on Winona’s infrastructure of roads and bridges, however, merit serious attention. One such issue, the effect of increased truck traffic on our Interstate bridge, was laid to rest earlier this month by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Mn/DOT (see front page article).

According to Mn/DOT data, frac sand trucks have been monitored crossing the bridge, and found to be within the special, reduced 80,000 pound weight limit imposed back in 2008 after the bridge was closed in the flap ensuing from the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis. According to a state patrol official, over 100 frac trucks have been checked in the last two or three months and none were found to be overweight, although violations by other truckers were detected. The Mn/DOT statement assured Winonans that the safety of the Interstate bridge has not been compromised by frac trucks.

For Winona proper, which has become a staging area for frac sand shipping to the oil and gas fields where it is used, that would leave mainly a concern about air quality. The issue of silica dust, a carcinogen which can lead to silicosis, a type of lung cancer, has been raised. There are credible complaints that dust emanating from somewhere is requiring cars in the vicinity of Mt. Frac (the sand pile on W. 2nd St). to be washed repeatedly. However, everything I read about frac sand is that it is used to fracture oil and gas bearing shales precisely because it is large, round, and extremely hard, and therefore very unlikely to be broken down into fine silica dust until actually used in hydraulic fracturing or various industrial processes. That would create problems, but not here in Winona. If that analysis were wrong, it could quickly be proven so by some independent agency taking air quality samples.

Ground water problems possibly created by the actual mining of the sand which, of course, is not taking place in Winona proper, need to be addressed. However, anyone who cares to take a ride out in rural Winona or Buffalo County is going to encounter sand and gravel quarrying operations, both small and large, at the top of virtually every hill road. A near, cavernous example is situated to your left on Highway 43 just before you reach I-90. Take a look and ask yourself what new and different problems frac sand mining is likely to generate.

Americans are currently on their way to paying $4+ per gallon of gas, much of it going overseas to finance hostile regimes which hope to destroy the United States. The virtually miraculous arrival of fracking technology, offering hope of energy independence, along with countless jobs and a new prosperity, is an enormous blessing, although not entirely unmitigated. We will have to learn, sensibly, to live with it.




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