Report calls for frac sand EIS on
area mines to be rigorous, comprehensive
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 4:38 AM
An upcoming environmental review of the biggest frac sand mining project ever proposed in southeast Minnesota must not only examine impacts on air, water and economics, but should also require full disclosure of the proposers' business ties and track record, says a new report released Monday by the Land Stewardship Project (LSP).
Such a review must also be conducted by independent experts with no ties to the proposers or the frac sand industry in general, concludes The People's EIS Scoping Report. This report was compiled by LSP from the comments of the 100 participants in the People's EIS Kickoff Meeting held in Rushford in July.
The report addresses the necessary scope and depth of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) soon to be underway on the frac sand mining project proposed by Minnesota Sands, LLC. This proposal calls for the development of 11 mine sites in Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties.
On Wednesday, Sept. 18, LSP members from southeastern Minnesota presented copies of the report to the members and staff of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) at its monthly meeting in St. Paul. Copies will also be given to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton as well as other state and local officials.
"Southeast Minnesotans understand that the frac sand industry ultimately benefits oil and gas corporations, not our local communities," said Bonita Underbakke, an LSP member who lives in rural Fillmore County near Lanesboro. "We're concerned about the impacts on our existing economic drivers like agriculture and tourism."
Under Minnesota law, an EIS must consider not only the environmental impacts of a project, but also its economic, employment and sociological effects. This level of review is mandatory for the Minnesota Sands project, since it includes the proposed mining of 615.31 total acres, well over the threshold of 160 acres for which an EIS is required. The EIS must be completed before any unit of government may make a decision on whether to issue a permit for any part of the proposed project.
The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board is the state agency responsible for carrying out the EIS on the Minnesota Sands project. The EQB is made up of the commissioners of nine state departments or agencies (from Administration to Transportation) along with five citizen members. The EQB has not yet released any draft scoping document detailing the particular impacts it proposes to study within the EIS.
In a decision on March 20, the EQB accepted a request by Fillmore, Houston and Winona counties for the EQB to become the regulating government unit (RGU) for all silica sand mines under Minnesota Sands operation in those three counties. In testimony, David Williams noted that the EQB has "the experts that the county doesn't have" to address this issue.
The citizens' report released Monday serves as the people's scoping document, describing the specific impacts of the proposed project, which must, at minimum, be studied if the EIS is to serve the public interest, according to Johanna Rupprecht, an LSP organizer who compiled the report. Its categories include impacts on air, water, land, transportation, economics and quality of life. In the People's EIS Scoping Report, southeast Minnesotans also call for Minnesota Sands to fully disclose information about its identity and track record, and for the EIS to be rigorously carried out by experts with no industry ties.
The report expresses local people's deep concerns about the impacts of the proposed frac sand mining project on their lives, homes and communities. Local residents' environmental and health concerns are closely connected to the economic and social issues they have also raised. As expressed in the report, area citizens recognize that the destruction and pollution of land, air and water threatened by potential frac sand mining would also severely damage existing local economies and the fabric of communities.
"I worry about my health, my family's welfare, the health of my animals, our food supply," said LSP member Vince Ready, who lives on a small farm in Saratoga Township, Winona County, a few miles away from the proposed mine sites. "I need the EQB, as public officials, to be looking out for the best interests of me and my community when they are studying the impacts of this proposal."
The People's EIS Scoping Report: Citizen Comments on the Necessary Scope and Depth of the Environmental Impact Statement on the Minnesota Sands Frac Sand Proposal is available on LSP's website: www.landstewardshipproject.org/repository/1/959/the_people_s_eis_scoping.pdf.