Neighbors of a new mine site proposed in Saratoga Township learned more about the project last week at a meeting of project planners and local residents. Several residents voiced concerns about sand trucks routed on County Road 33 through town.
The 19-acre frac sand mine proposal on David and Sherry Nisbit’s land is the first to seek a permit to mine since the Winona County moratorium on new mines ended in May 2012. The Winona County Board recently voted to require an environmental review of the project, and will consider the permit application once the environmental study is completed.
The site is about 2.8 miles south of the intersection of County Road 113 and County Road 6, and trucks leaving the mine would use County Road 113, County Road 33, then head to Winona on Highway 14. Geologist and consultant for the project Jeff Broberg of McGhie and Betts said about 10 semi trailers per hour would leave the site and travel the route.
Broberg, who is a former member of the Winona County Planning Commission, said he is familiar with the county zoning ordinance and the more restrictive list of conditions required of proposed mines that was instituted during the moratorium. The Nisbit site, he said, meets all the requirements—including not having prime agricultural soil. There is less rock overburden covering the sand layers, so less blasting will be needed to get to the product, he said. “It makes it suitable and economical to [mine because of that],” said Broberg.
The mine would likely be in operation for less than three years, said Broberg, adding it would excavate a maximum of 300,000 tons per year. He said the Nisbit site presents very few of the effects that mine opponents have feared. The operation won’t use water or chemicals to process the sand, instead using a processing facility in the city of Winona. The excavation will not lower the elevation of the site to lower than 140 feet above the water table. The site will be restored to pastureland in phases; no more than five acres will be opened for mining at one time, and restored before operations move on to the next five acres.
Broberg said he worked earlier in the oil industry in southern Louisiana, and shared some of his experiences. In the past, he said, the oil and gas industry has looked for products far below the earth’s surface, between 15,000 and 20,000 feet underground. Sometimes they would drill through up to 7,000 feet of black shale rock before reaching the gas and oil below.
But with hydraulic fracturing, using this sand, drillers are able to harvest gas and oil from the shale rock rather than drilling so deep. When you buy LP gas today, said Broberg, it’s about $1.20 per gallon, a direct result of the hydraulic fracturing process. A cheap energy supply like this, he said, will certainly change the U.S. economy, adding that Kwik Trip has already pledged to add natural gas pumps at 26 stations in Southern Minnesota and Iowa.
Some sand is located in environmentally fragile areas, said Broberg, while some potential mine locations, such as the Nisbit site, are not. “This is a commodity that is sought after and needs to be [mined] responsibly,” he said. “We believe we’re doing that.”
The total demand right now for frac sand is about 28 to 30 million tons annually, said Broberg, who calculated that translates to about 250 acres of land mined per year. He said there are currently 67 sites in Wisconsin and eight in Minnesota harvesting sand for the industry. The sand brought to the processing facility in Winona, he said, would simply be replacing sand that is currently coming from Wisconsin to the facility.
Several members of the public questioned the proposed haul route for the sand, asking that project planners consider routing the trucks onto I-90 or on County Road 6 around Lewiston and then on Highway 14. Project planners said the routes would cost the project more because they must pay Winona County 21.9 cents per ton per mile for the use of county roadways, and that they would take longer. A route through Lewiston would bring the trucks past the school there, as well, and would likely meet resistance.
The environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) for the project will be available in November, allowing 30 days for citizen and state agency comment before it is reviewed by the Winona County Board.