WINONA, Minnesota (WXOW) – A couple hundred people attended the Frac Sand Mining Citizens' Summit in Winona Saturday to hear from environmental and health experts on the potential impact of frac sand mining.
Frac sand mining is the removal of silica sand, sand needed for a process called hydraulic fracturing, where natural gas and other energy products are excised from the earth.
"You can't really tell people how much to be concerned until you know what there is," said John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
He's looking for more answers about silica sand emissions.
"We always want to minimize air emissions," Linc Stine said. "That comes from traffic. that comes from diesel trucks, that comes from wood burning fires, that comes from a lot of different sources."
But even after years of debate, and a frac mining moratorium in Winona County, there's some questions left about the impact on air and water quality.
So the MPCA is looking into it. They're installing air quality monitors to test along the interstate where silica sand is transported.
That's something Linc Stine spoke about at the summit.
"We're primarily an agricultural area. Our economy is based upon agriculture," said Kelley Stanage, a Houston resident concerned about frac sand mining's impact on land and water quality.
"Taking huge amounts of land and making them un-farmable is probably something that's not good for this region," she added.
The Land Stewardship project organized the summit. It's a group working to keep fracing out of Southeast Minnesota.
But frac sand companies said they follow safety guidelines strictly, and the mines bring around jobs and boost local economies.
Companies, before they use a mining site, are also required to get a permit.
"The (Winona) County Board took a position that we permit responsible mining. And if you look back at the permit we allowed, it had, I want to say, over 39 conditions," said Winona County Commissioner Marcia Ward.
She grants those mining permits.
"(We're) always looking for new science, new facts," Ward said.
That's what Saturday's summit was all about. Gathering different facts about frac sand mining and seeing if and how they apply to the region.
The MPCA said there have been 11 small mining sites proposed in southeastern Minnesota. An environmental impact statement has been order for each one.
Ward said there's only one site in the area that is currently permitted.