Minnesota appeals court upholds Winona County frack sand ban

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday upheld Winona County’s ban on mining frack sand, used to fracture shale rock to extract oil and natural gas.
In a split decision, a three-judge appeals panel affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit from a company that challenged the ordinance.
Minnesota Sands and a group of landowners argued the 2016 mining ordinance violates their constitutional rights by singling out sand used for industrial purposes, such as fracking, while allowing mining for local construction uses. But the appeals court rejected that argument, the La Crosse Tribune reported.
“A county ordinance that even-handedly bans all industrial-mineral mining, including silica-sand mining, within the county does not discriminate against interstate commerce,” Judge Renee L. Worke wrote in the majority opinion.
The Winona County Board has allowed mining to continue for construction sand, a cheaper, less pure material used on roadways and for other commercial purposes. Minnesota Sands argued that the county’s ban discriminates against its business because it specifies that only industrial sand mining is prohibited.
The sand mining company contended the ban violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, amounting to an unconstitutional limitation on interstate commerce. Minnesota Sands argued the ordinance benefits in-state operations that are free to mine silica sand for other uses while banning those that sell the sand for out-of-state fracking operations, the Star Tribune reported .
In a statement, Minnesota Sands said the company is “extremely disappointed” by the ruling and is considering whether to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
“The ban eliminates landowner mineral rights and creates an economic risk and threat to anyone who benefits from the use of their land. We believe that allowing it to remain in place is the wrong way for Winona County to try to address issues that are beyond their authority,” Minnesota Sands said.
Johanna Rupprecht of the Land Stewardship Project, which spearheaded a grassroots campaign that led to the ban, hailed the ruling.
“This is local government acting the way it should,” Rupprecht said. “To protect the common good.”
Silica sand is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling process used to unlock underground oil and natural gas reserves. Demand for frack sand has soared, with northern white sand from Minnesota and Wisconsin considered the best in the industry, but also the most expensive.