By Tony Kennedy

Frac sand expansion would be halted in Minnesota until March 1, 2014, under a statewide moratorium added to a bill Tuesday that would intensify and unify state regulation of the growing industry.

The amended frac sand bill was passed by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee by an 8-4 vote. Industry participants told the committee that a moratorium and additional oversight would stifle their business and thwart job growth in rural communities.

The newly formed Minnesota Industrial Sand Council said its members support the “stringent” state oversight already in place.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, said Minnesota is missing the full economic opportunity of frac sand mining because companies have overwhelmingly flocked to Wisconsin, where there is less regulation.

“Sand is a way for Minnesota to participate in the energy revolution,’’ said Scott Sustacek, an executive for Minnesota-based Jordan Sands. “This legislation would stop our growth.’’

Under the bill, which was sent to the State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee, the moratorium would temporarily halt any permitting of new frac sand facilities. It would coincide with a comprehensive, statewide environmental impact study of the industry.

The study would help the state Environmental Quality Board and a proposed new Southeastern Minnesota Silica Sand Board to set standards for the region, which would help unify a patchwork of regulation that is currently vested with individual counties, cities and townships.

Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, told committee members that his bill is aimed at “getting it right’’ before frac sand mining takes off in Minnesota. The hydraulic fracturing boom for oil and gas that is driving the demand for sand mining is projected to be a long-lasting business, he said.

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