We have read hundreds of documents on fracking, as well as frac-sand mining and processing. These documents focus on the silica (in the sand), getting it and making it usable for fracking--it doesn't come out of the ground that way. It also is not sitting on the surface like it is on a beach. If you look at the mining photos, you'll notice layers of various soil types. The silica is actually in the sandstone, siltstone or shale.

The cross-section shown to the right (from UMN) represents what you would see in the bluffs at Lake Pepin. The top yellow layer, Cj, is Jordan sandstone. This layer contains the silica used for fracking. It is 30-100' thick. Notice that it is 200' below the ground, but also visible from the river and the valley--the bluffs. Current Goodhue County Ordinance protects "natural" bluffs, which would exclude bluffs created by cutting a steep hill for a road (think of highway 61 coming into Red Wing from Hastings or Highway 58 between Red Wing and Haycreek).

Once they get the sandstone, it needs to be processed. Although silica sand deposits are commonly mined for use in glass making, filtration media, blasting media, ceramic products, and fillers in a variety of other applications (Mark Zdunczyk, 1/2007), fracking requires round silica of a very specific size. "The frac sand industry has more stringent size distribution specifications than glass sands. This can result in more "waste" product than in a glass sand process…" (Outotec, 7/2008).

It is this waste that represents the health issue. The American Petroleum Institute (API) sets standards for size, as well as sphericity and roundness of a quartz grain. A size of .84-.42mm is required for fracking (under the 20/40 column in Figure 1). That is 1/4 of the possible proppant (i.e., material used to "prop" open the cracks in the shale so the gas or fluid can be extracted) sizes.

Waste further increases because only “round” particles are appropriate. The comparison chart below was devised by Krumbein and Sloss in 1955. API recommends sphericity and roundness of 0.6 or larger (upper right quadrant of Figure 2), so 1/5 of the samples shown are suitable.

If only 1/4 of particle sizes are suitable and only 1/5 of the shapes in that size category are suitable, then 1/20 of a deposit is likely suitable. The rest is waste. To obtain the size and shape wanted, processing is required. The ground is no longer suitable for farming, and the dust produced is a health hazard.

As we examined the literature and the Goodhue County Ordinances, it became apparent of a real clash in values and good policy. Air Quality, Water Quality, Water Quantity, Agriculture, Soil Erosion, Recreation, Economic Impact , Tax base, Roads and County Burden (the work required to keep these industrial mines honest).

One of the mind-boggling things about this issue is fracking does not require sand! There is a ceramic alternative that actually performs better according to Mike O'Discoll of Industrial Minerals (see image below). 

Below is a brief synopsis of the concerns as they relate to the County Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinances. The details are in the literature categories found in the navigation to the left.



Air Quality Silica is classified as a carcinogen by OSHA. A silica sand mining operation will generate a great deal of dust. Inhaling crystalline silica sand dust can cause numerous health issues, including respiratory problems, heart disease, worsening of asthma symptoms, and even a life threatening and disabling lung disease called silicosis. Although no federal standard exists for “safe levels” of ambient air exposure, Texas has set a value of 2 ug/m3 to prevent against silicosis and California has set a value of 3 ug/m3.

Water Quality

Silica sand mining—an industrial operation—will move earth with heavy equipment to get the specific granules needed. The result is soil erosion, water runoff, and pollution from fuel, oil and ANFO (a mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil used in blasting). Geological data for Goodhue County shows that the Hay Creek and Frontenac sites have a "very high" sensitivity to Pollution of the uppermost Bedrock Aquifers, which makes the land vulnerable to the intrusions and vibrations of industrial mining.

Water Quantity

The Maiden Rock, WI site mixes 1 part mined sand with 2 parts water, which uses an average of 1.3 million gallons/day. As a comparison, Red Wing uses 1.6 million gallons/day. This will significantly impact the quantity of drinking water in our aquifers and will cause changes in water pressure when the mine is pumping water. The lack of water flow can damage well pumps. Minnesota Statutes, 103G.261 establish domestic water use the highest priority.


The land where the sand mining and processing may occur is now prime agricultural property—as-is much of the county. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Services, nearly 500,000 acres of Goodhue County grew crops in 2010 ( Farmers sold $263,970,000 of Ag products in 2007 (15th in the State). County ranks high in State Ag production (USDA, 2010): 6th in milk production, 6th in cattle & calves, 7th in oat production, and 9th in the breeding sheep & lambs.

Soil Erosion

The proposed mining site is currently farmland at the top and forestland for much of the hillside. If mined, it would be subject to deforestation, blasting, grading, and digging which will cause soil erosion and the diversion of water runoff, which would result in reduced flow and increased sediment levels in nearby trout streams. It ‘kills’ the stream. In addition, the frac-sand industry has more stringent size distribution specifications than glass sands, so it has more “waste” product than in a glass sand process that could end up in streams. All Goodhue County streams flow into the Mississippi River. Lake Pepin is already vulnerable according to Norman Senjem, MPCA basin coordinator for the Mississippi: “The whole lake would fill in within 300 years” (5/12/11)

Recreation and Economic Impact - Tourism

Nearly 1/3 of Goodhue County is protected by state or federal authorities. The Blufflands provides a critical migratory corridor for forest songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl. The proposed industrial silica sand mining operations are adjacent to Frontenac State Park and the Richard J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood State Forest. These entities offer recreational trails, horseback riding, trout fishing, and camping.  

Each year, over one million visitors come to Goodhue County to enjoy the scenery and recreational opportunities. Our County's Leisure & Hospitality industry had gross sales of $65 million in 2010 and employed 1826 people. Compare that to fewer than 50 people for the Maiden Rock, WI site.

Economic Impact – Tax base

Dr. Hite’s research (Auburn University) discovered that properties within a 3-mile radius of a mining operation experience a permanent reduction in sale price: up to 30% for those properties adjacent to the mine site, 14.5% for those 1 mile away (e.g., town of Hay Creek), 8.9% for those 2 miles away (e.g., town of Frontenac) and 4.9% for those 3 miles away (portions of Lake City and Red Wing). There are 511 properties within 1 mile of the site.

Roads & Travelers



Fairmount Minerals (Maiden Rock) ships about 23 rail cars and 8-12 trucks of sand every day (for 500K-700K tons/year). EOG Resources (Chippewa Falls, WI) transports 2.6 million tons of silica each year; at 20 tons per truck that is 2500 each week. This is a “heavy hauling” industry, according the MNDOT. The transport route from the Hay Creek site to the Frontenac site would be 14.5 miles via HWY58 to Flower Valley Road to HWY61 or 12.8 miles via HWY58 to CR5 to CR2 to HWY61. Cost can run $120,000 to $250,000 per mile.

Additional expenditures will also be required to improve the entry/exit points at the Hay Creek site because it is on a hillside and at the Frontenac site because it is on busy HWY61.

County Burden

If one mining operation starts, many will follow. The cumulative effect from many mining sites and operations will likely put a heavy strain on needed public utilities, water quality monitoring, air quality monitoring, water treatment and enforcement.