Minnesota state agencies are preparing to create a list of new regulations and standards for frac sand mines and related facilities, following legislation passed into law this year that will present sweeping changes to the permitting processes for, and the placement of, new frac sand mines.
One of the new regulations will require proposed sand mines within one mile of trout streams to obtain a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Because the Winona County region contains so many such waterways, the bulk of the county would be covered under the permit requirement, although the southwestern corner of the county, where sand deposits are near the surface and more easily accessible, appears to be mostly outside of the trout stream permit radius, according to a map issued by the DNR.
The DNR is in the process of determining the details of the new permit for mines within the mile radius of trout streams. It must also begin to create state rules pertaining to the reclamation of silica sand mines.
The DNR is one of four state agencies that must develop rules to govern new sand mines. The new legislation also directs the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to create rules to regulate dust emissions from sand facilities; the Minnesota Department of Health must also adopt health-based standards for air quality at mine sites and processing plants. Additionally, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) has been directed to amend its rules, which set thresholds for the requirement for environmental studies of silica sand mining and processing project proposals.
The state agencies involved will host meetings with local officials in Red Wing and Winona on August 2, although times and locations have not yet been established. Myrna Halbach, assistant director of resource management and assistance at the MPCA, said the agencies are currently determining how best to coordinate their work. "Do we [create regulations] in connected fashion, or do we do them in sequence? How do we [develop agency sand rules], because we know we're going to have very similar interested parties," she said of the questions now being asked about the process.
Additionally, the work will take time, said Halbach. "A complicated, controversial rule can take two years to do," she explained.
State technical assistance team
Along with new regulations, the EQB has also been charged with assembling a silica sand technical assistance team. The team will provide local government units — when requested — with assistance on the development of silica sand ordinances, environmental review, permitting, monitoring, or other needs.
Along with the assistance team, the EQB must also consult with local governments in Southeastern Minnesota to develop model standards for local ordinances that govern new sand mines and related facilities. The EQB will also be required to maintain a library of reference materials regarding local ordinances for silica sand operations, as well as a log of local mine permits, by October 1, 2013.
Beginning July 1, an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) will be required for proposals to excavate 20 or more acres of land to a depth of ten feet or more, or for projects planning to store 7,500 tons of silica sand or operations with an annual threshold of 200,000 tons of silica sand. EAWs must include a hydraulic investigation, an assessment of water availability, an air quality impact assessment, a traffic impact analysis, an assessment of compatibility with existing land uses and potential mitigation measures.