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Minnesota Releases Fracking Regulation Handbook


The state of Minnesota released what it hopes will be a handbook for local governments working to regulate the frac sand industry, according to the Winona Daily News. The 168-page report from the Environmental Quality Board avoids setting specific guidelines for monitoring pollution and instead lists the types of options available. It provides a variety of specifics for local governments looking to measure pollutants related to the frac sand industry, but concludes that there’s no single good answer for doing so.

The report says the presence of sand in ambient air has rarely been measured and acknowledges that there’s no state or federal baseline to compare measurements. Instead, the report details what it describes as a “risk guideline value” and uses the state health department’s measurement of 3 µg/m3, which is the level of pollutant present in a cubic meter of air. That value, the report said, is “very conservative and highly protective” and short-term increases above it “do not necessitate an immediate cause for concern.”

The report clearly describes the health risks associated with exposure to diesel exhaust from increased truck traffic, but notes that there is no direct way of measuring those emissions in ambient air. Local governments can use what’s known as surrogate monitoring, the practice of studying other airborne chemicals associated with diesel exhaust, but that has “significant limitations” depending on wind patterns, geographical features and other issues, the report concluded.

The report is not intended to be written into law; instead, the idea is to give local governments dealing with the frac sand industry an optional resource to work from. The report is still in draft form, and the state plans to revise it and accept public comments in the coming months.

Aside from monitoring, the report details a number of best practices for cities looking to regulate issues ranging from dust control to hours of operations but found that regulations will still largely depend on analyzing a specific site. Some of the findings include:

Dust control

  • Trucks and railcars should be appropriately covered.
  • Open-air storage piles should contain at least 3 percent moisture.
  • Frac sand facilities should pave, vacuum and water roads within their properties daily using at least a gallon of water for every 10 square feet, unless there’s been recent rain or the water would freeze and create hazardous driving conditions.
  • Processing operations should be as self-contained as possible and have preventative measures for handling dust.

Water use and quality

  • Frac sand facilities still won’t rank high on the state’s water-consumption list, which includes six priorities. They would generally fall under the last priority, “non-essential uses.” By comparison, agricultural use ranks third and power production ranks fourth.
  • Facility permits should include an analysis of aquifers and private wells and a comprehensive plan to minimize impacts.
  • Facilities should assess area geology, particularly identifying porous karst features that can easily allow stored surface water to reach an aquifer.
  • Facilities should regularly monitor water quality at different locations near the operation.
  • Water should be recycled through wastewater ponds that do not drain into the ground; those that do should be heavily monitored for the presence of chemicals.
  • All sites should be specially designed to minimize the risk of runoff.

Road use

  • Local governments and operators should agree on designated hauling routes, and trucks should not deviate from them. Traffic impact studies should be required on all routes at the cost of the facility operator. The report notes the potential impact on tourism, as well as the safety impact particularly related to bikers, walkers, school buses and Amish buggies, but says traffic impact studies should adequately address those issues.

Lighting, hours of operation

  • Lighting and hours of operation should be defined on a case-by-case basis depending on where the frac sand operation is located.

The state of Minnesota released what it hopes will be a handbook for local governments working to regulate the frac sand industry, according to the Winona Daily News. The 168-page report from the Environmental Quality Board avoids setting specific guidelines for monitoring pollution and instead lists the types of options available. It provides a variety of specifics for local governments looking to measure pollutants related to the frac sand industry, but concludes that there’s no single good answer for doing so.

The report says the presence of sand in ambient air has rarely been measured and acknowledges that there’s no state or federal baseline to compare measurements. Instead, the report details what it describes as a “risk guideline value” and uses the state health department’s measurement of 3 µg/m3, which is the level of pollutant present in a cubic meter of air. That value, the report said, is “very conservative and highly protective” and short-term increases above it “do not necessitate an immediate cause for concern.”

The report clearly describes the health risks associated with exposure to diesel exhaust from increased truck traffic, but notes that there is no direct way of measuring those emissions in ambient air. Local governments can use what’s known as surrogate monitoring, the practice of studying other airborne chemicals associated with diesel exhaust, but that has “significant limitations” depending on wind patterns, geographical features and other issues, the report concluded.

The report is not intended to be written into law; instead, the idea is to give local governments dealing with the frac sand industry an optional resource to work from. The report is still in draft form, and the state plans to revise it and accept public comments in the coming months.

Aside from monitoring, the report details a number of best practices for cities looking to regulate issues ranging from dust control to hours of operations but found that regulations will still largely depend on analyzing a specific site. Some of the findings include:

Dust control
Trucks and railcars should be appropriately covered.
Open-air storage piles should contain at least 3 percent moisture.
Frac sand facilities should pave, vacuum and water roads within their properties daily using at least a gallon of water for every 10 square feet, unless there’s been recent rain or the water would freeze and create hazardous driving conditions.
Processing operations should be as self-contained as possible and have preventative measures for handling dust.

Water use and quality
Frac sand facilities still won’t rank high on the state’s water-consumption list, which includes six priorities. They would generally fall under the last priority, “non-essential uses.” By comparison, agricultural use ranks third and power production ranks fourth.
Facility permits should include an analysis of aquifers and private wells and a comprehensive plan to minimize impacts.
Facilities should assess area geology, particularly identifying porous karst features that can easily allow stored surface water to reach an aquifer.
Facilities should regularly monitor water quality at different locations near the operation.
Water should be recycled through wastewater ponds that do not drain into the ground; those that do should be heavily monitored for the presence of chemicals.
All sites should be specially designed to minimize the risk of runoff.

Road use
Local governments and operators should agree on designated hauling routes, and trucks should not deviate from them. Traffic impact studies should be required on all routes at the cost of the facility operator. The report notes the potential impact on tourism, as well as the safety impact particularly related to bikers, walkers, school buses and Amish buggies, but says traffic impact studies should adequately address those issues.

Lighting, hours of operation
Lighting and hours of operation should be defined on a case-by-case basis depending on where the frac sand operation is located.