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The Promises of Prosperity from Frac-Sand Mining Fall Short

PHOTO: A giant mound of mined sand amidst Wisconsin farm fields. CREDIT: Carol Mitchell
PHOTO: A giant mound of mined sand amidst Wisconsin farm fields. CREDIT: Carol Mitchell
May 24, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. – With the expansion of frac sand mining in Minnesota and Wisconsin, elected officials are being urged to weigh the pros with the cons before making a decision on proposed projects.

Thomas Power, professor emeritus in economics at the University of Montana, has long researched the economics of mining. His latest report finds that the industry's promises of jobs and economic growth are not all they're cracked up to be.

"The economic impact analyses that have been done on frac sand mining in Minnesota and West Central Wisconsin really shouldn't be called economic reports at all,” he says. “They're primarily public relation reports, in a sense that they focus on pure benefits."

Power says those benefits must be weighed with the public costs, such as infrastructure, emergency services, pollution and the possible negative impact on other businesses.

There's also, says Power, the impact of frac sand mining on residents in the vicinity of the operations.

"A landowner who decides to put in a sand mine is going to have a very direct impact on the value of the property adjacent,” he explains. “So, what's their gain is going to be a loss to other people."

When officials consider proposals, they should also make sure they’re compatible with the area's economy, maintains Wabasha City Council member Lynn Schoen.

She says any benefit that frac sand mining would bring would hurt her city’s main industry – tourism.

"Because now you've got increased traffic,” she says. “You've got increased noise. You've got increased water and air pollution and all of those things that people leave to come to a nice little community like this.

“So, for every truck driver job you might gain, you're going to lose a restaurant or a bed and breakfast or something else, because people aren't going to want to come here."

The Wabasha City Council voted earlier this spring to impose a moratorium on new frac sand operations, along with setting a limit on the number of daily trips through town by heavy trucks.



John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN