Pam Freet, as the earth, shares what its perspective might be on the prospect of having frac sand mines dug into its sides.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Pam Freet, as the earth, shares what its perspective might be on the prospect of having frac sand mines dug into its sides. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
In a tiny grain of sand: Power, economy, oil, water, land and health.

"What we've got a lot of is sand so small and so round," sang a group of performers, including local artist Eva Barr, Spring Valley residents Jake Stacken and Pam Freet, and members of In the Heart of the Beast Theatre of Minneapolis, as they used the timeless country tune "Cool, Clear Water" to share why they feel fractured sand mining is detrimental to the driftless region and the people and animals inhabiting it.

The song was one of several in a performance called "What the Frack" that is part of a public tour of "Let's Talk About Sand." The tour presented by the Dreamery Rural Arts Initiative of Wykoff in collaboration with Heart of the Beast Theatre of Minneapolis visited Spring Valley for a performance and discussion Thursday evening at the public library.

The performers transitioned to "How much is that oil in the buck-et?" sung to the tune of "How Much is That Doggy in the Window?" The lyrics showed an illustration of what could happen when frac sand, found in the bluffs and hills of the driftless region, or Bluff Country, is mined and used to help fill the oil-drilling shafts that reach into the ground in states such as North Dakota, pushing oil to the surface for refining to use in powering cars, manufacturing plants and more to maintain Americans' standard of living.

They sang, "The water goes here, the sand goes there, what happens next, some say is a miracle." Then came the "long list of chemicals that goes into the water to cause a huge underground explosion that helps the oil flow right help keep our cars running while it's cold outside." The group told how the absence of sand - the same sand that cleans chemicals from water - results in the loss of water in the aquifers and the drying up of the towns, jobs and environments affected.

And Freet, portraying the earth, spoke. "Now's the time to stop, now's the time to think..."

Barr, as a person promoting humankind, posited, "Humans evolved out of the primordial soup to be in charge. We're not doing anything different than the glaciers did."

Another cast member put on a farmer's hat, asking, "What happens to my well if you take all the sand which cleans the water?"

And Stacken, as a mining regulator, assured them, "There are government regulations...these things need to have permits issued."

And the "voter" in the cast interjected, "We, the people, aren't in control of our rights anymore - our voices aren't being heard and we're being drowned out by the dollar."

And argument over argument ensued as the players drove home the point: Drilling for oil using frac sand mined from the bluffs is not a matter easily resolved, as doing so affects people's power and health, the economy, the oil supply and most markedly, the land.

Discussion followed, as Barr had planned.

"The idea really is to generate this kind of conversation," said Barr. "The genesis of the discussion was held in Minneapolis...discussion, the concerns, the bias of the piece. We wanted to honor that, but also open the floor to people speaking."

Most audience members expressed their outrage or frustration that frac sand mining could even be considered in the area and that alternative energy sources should be found, but there were voices calling for understanding of how a viewpoint condemning sand mining could essentially cripple an oil-dependent nation.

Local farmer Steve Majors commented, "I live and farm outside of Spring Valley, and I'm trying to see both sides of the issue. I feel you might be attacking it from the wrong area. I feel we need to find how to make fractured sand more viable. We have to be really careful how we word it. We have wind towers, ethanol plants, a refinery not far from here, and we tend toward 'not in my back yard.' I think it shortchanges the industry to say 'no, we can't do it - we can't find a better way'. We have to be smarter than that. We have to be smart enough to make all other situations viable."

Jim Edgar, a Spring Valley resident and also a forester with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was asked about his opinion regarding frac sand mining, given that his son has worked for an oil drilling company in North Dakota. He told how his son returned from the service in Afghanistan and needed a job, and that the job that was available along with housing was with an oil crew in North Dakota.

"He's now going to school, but he went to Afghanistan and North Dakota to make sure we have cheap oil...I think it has to be so much cleaner (drilling for frac sand and oil) because we have input," he said. "I think we're kind of shortsighted."

Freet expressed her opinion, saying, "I have a lot of thoughts about the aesthetics of the area...I personally think mines are ugly, and the underground mines take away sand we need. And when people's emotions get involved, it gets nutty."

Barr added her perspective. "It's hugely complex...and as devastating as it is, we're going to have to put up with it until we realize the impact."

Before closing, the performers shared a short portion of the documentary, "The Price of Sand," which addresses the boom of frac sand mining in towns along the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. Spring Valley Public Library director Dianne Sikkink purchased a copy of the documentary for library patrons to borrow if they wish.

Performances of "Let's Talk About Sand" were also held at the Zumbrota, Cannon Falls, Decorah and Chatfield public libraries, as well as at the Commonweal Theatre in Lanesboro.