Update: The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board extended the public comment period for the draft model guidelines by two weeks.  The deadline for public comments is now January 27.

On December 13, the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB) – in collaboration with several other state agencies, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) – released a revised draft set of model guidelines meant to assist local governments in creating plans and regulations for silica sand mining in the state.  Silica sand is often used as a proppant in the hydraulic fracturing process.

The creation of these guidelines, which are intended to serve as suggested criteria for city and county governments to develop their own local silica sand mining, processing, and transporting ordinances, was mandated by a statute the Minnesota Legislature passed last spring.  While some groups had called on the Legislature to pass a statewide moratorium on silica sand mining at that time, lawmakers instead opted for more regulations on the practice. 

For example, until July 2015, environmental assessment worksheets must be prepared for any silica sand mining projects that meet certain thresholds.  And, in addition to the content for environmental assessment worksheets commonly mandated by state statute and rules, silica sand mining worksheets must also include a hydrogeologic investigation assessing potential groundwater and surface water effects, an air quality impact assessment, and a traffic impact analysis, among other requirements, for each project.  The Legislature also passed a law directing the EQB, the DNR, the MPCA, and other state agencies to adopt administrative rules related to silica sand mining activities and impacts.  (See the 2013 Minnesota Session Laws, Chapter 14 at Article 4, Section 105.)  That administrative rulemaking process is ongoing.

The EQB divided the non-binding draft guidelines into several categories, including dust control, water quality and use, impacts on roads and bridges, mine operation activities, and establishing physical buffers and setbacks from residential and environmentally sensitive areas.  There’s a 30-day public comment period on the draft; the EQB has a deadline of February 19, 2013 to approve a final version of the model standards.