Clayton county rezones 746 acres for frack sand mining

Great Plains Sand of Jordan, Minnesota mines and processes silica sand in a process that will mirror those in Clayton County. (MPCA Photos/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | November 17, 2016

The Clayton County Zoning Board of Adjustment voted unanimously Tuesday night to rezone 746 acres to allow for the underground mining of silica sand used in the hydraulic fracking process.

The zoning adjustment, requested by Pattison Sand Company, marks the end of a yearlong effort by the company to change the land from agricultural use to heavy industrial use. Citizens of Clayton County spoke up in favor and against the expansion of Pattison’s underground mining effort. Several of Pattison’s employees commended the company for its fair wages and good benefits. The workers also pointed out that the company and its employees help to stimulate the local economy.

Residents who live nearby voiced concern that the zoning change document does not mention the protection of human health, the local environment, or the aesthetic qualities of the bluffs that line the Mississippi River. According to a report by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), breathing in silica found in silica sands can cause a lung disease characterized by inflammation and scarring of the lungs, reducing their ability to intake oxygen. The report also said that silica can cause lung cancer and has been linked to other diseases, such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease. Workers who breathe in the silica sands every day are at the highest risk.

In contrast, University of Iowa professor Patrick O’Shaughnessy, presented research at the meeting which found little air quality risks associated with frack sand mining. O’Shaughnessy’s team of researchers did, however, recommend 16 zoning restrictions concerning air and water quality, noise pollution, and scenic preservation. None of these restrictions were adopted by the zoning board. Many speakers urged the board to table discussions or to adopt the researchers’ zoning restrictions, but restrictions were rejected and the board passed the zoning change 4-0.

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