The Free Press of Mankato, Oct. 29
Nation needs a sober debate about fracking
Silica sand mining has become a growing issue in this region and for much of southeastern Minnesota as the demand for sand has exploded due to the growth of shale oil and gas drilling.
As counties and cities struggle to balance the rights of businesses to mine and residents' concerns about mining, the state Legislature ordered the Environmental Quality Board to create a sort of best practices document to guide local governments.
The approach by the state makes sense. While some would like to see the state set stricter regulations regarding silica mining, the concerns and details of mine operations are different in each community and decisions are more appropriately a local decision. But local governments, particularly smaller towns and counties, do need the expert guidance the EQB is putting together. The final document, to be completed early next year, isn't intended as a set of minimum standards, but rather to provide local governments with a list of proven ordinances and ideas that they can pick and choose from as they write their own ordinances for silica operations.
The EQB was correct to slow down on creating a final document — they were initially to have a document by now — in order to get more public input. The EQB held a public meeting in Mankato last week and have more scheduled.
Those at the Mankato meeting voiced concerns about potential well problems, traffic and worries about the tiny silica particles being carried in the air. Mining companies, including the longtime UNIMIN mines near Ottawa and the new Jordan Sands company, talked about the many steps they take to minimize any problems.
The EQB document won't settle the debate over silica mining — those opposing it will continue to fight and those who promote the economic development of it will continue to support mining. But the document will give local governments much better information as they weigh those debates.
The sand mined here is sent to other states for use in oil and gas drilling, and the issues surrounding that hydraulic fracturing, better known as "fracking," should have a more robust debate nationally.
Fracking involves shooting silica sand and a chemical/water mixture deep into the ground to fracture rock formations, making natural gas and oil easier to extract. The potential dangers of fracking are real and serious, particularly the chemical contamination of the ground water supply. As oil exploration has exploded in recent years, so have problems. In North Dakota, more than 800,000 gallons of fracked oil spilled recently. It's among many spills in the state, with state officials accused of covering it up in the quest to support the economic boom brought to North Dakota.
In the past, many have promoted the "drill baby, drill" mentality, arguing it's necessary so that America isn't dependent on Middle East fuel. But that argument has lost its punch as the United States is now the top oil and fuel supplier in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia this year.
While the mining of silica is a side issue, the problems of fracking need a much more serious look.
St. Paul Pioneer Press, Oct. 29
Selling economic sectors that sell our region
Food, water and health care.
Remember those key business sectors as Minnesota's future unfolds.
They put us on the global stage now and will help keep us there in the future, according to Greater MSP, the private-public economic development partnership charged with telling our region's story to the rest of the nation and the world.
In food, we have agribusiness and nutrition giants that include Cargill and household names like General Mills and Land O' Lakes.
And we have water know-how here in the land of 10,000 lakes, with industry giants like Pentair and St. Paul-based Ecolab.
In health care, we're an acknowledged leader with the world-renowned Mayo Clinic and such medical device giants as Medtronic.
They join some additional "sectors of strength" -- including financial and business services and advanced manufacturing -- that will help Greater MSP better focus on "where to compete and how to compete," its CEO Michael Langley told us. The agency held its annual meeting Monday in Minneapolis.
The strategy makes sense in a region that for too long has had a lower profile than it should. There are some good signs that's changing.
When the Minnesota Vikings played in London in September, Langley, with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, took advantage of the opportunity to spread the word about the region. Coverage was positive.
The International Business Times called the region "the posterchild for economic growth, diverse business sectors and strong trade ties in America," reporting on our low unemployment and economic growth that exceeds the national rate.
Greater MSP was launched in 2011 with a goal to add 100,000 jobs in the region in five years. So far, the agency says it has assisted companies that have added more than 9,000 jobs and $700 million in capital investment to the region.
To fuel the growth, we can't underestimate the need for homegrown talent. That means assuring that the state has "the quantity and quality of workers," Langley says, to attract and retain the key businesses.
Looking ahead, workforce readiness likely will shape up as a major opportunity for the state -- and perhaps a major risk. By 2020, 74 percent of jobs here will require some post-secondary education.
We'll also need to be wary of a "talent mismatch," Langley said, with jobs open for which the skills of the unemployed aren't a fit.
In making decisions about where to locate a business, "talent" frequently trumps other factors, including taxes and other costs of doing business, Langley suggests. Companies are more willing to make investments "if the talent is there."
In St. Paul and the east metro area -- where development typically is viewed as "tipping" in favor of the west metro -- we're becoming better accustomed to the concept of marketing the region as a whole.
City government in St. Paul has been supportive, Langley told us, with Mayor Chris Coleman "one of the staunchest advocates for regional thinking."
It's been a stretch for some of us though. Our loyalties lie on this side of the river, and the east metro will always need east-metro advocacy.
But, as Coleman and Rybak have demonstrated, there are times when it's smart to set aside some loyalties for the purpose of selling the region.
Combining that spirit with smart strategy about food and water -- two elements essential to human life in a world increasingly concerned about their security -- will be good for us wherever we live.
Mesabi Daily News, Oct. 26
Finally, leases awarded to drill holes
Minnesota's Executive Council, comprised of the five constitutional officeholders, did on Friday what should have been done last December.
But for now, what's most important is not an unfortunate delayed decision on the awarding of 31 minerals leases in northeastern Minnesota over a ridiculous demand for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet to drill some holes, but rather the go-ahead that has been given.
We find it truly mind-boggling that there is so much consternation about the exploratory drilling of holes to bring up core samples for geologists to study the possibility of mining the site for copper/nickel/precious metals.
Exploratory drilling is a very good thing and sends the right message to those investors willing and wanting to do mining business in Minnesota.
Would those vocal opponents and some state officials who are just plain too skittish on the issue, rather that the minerals needed for all their computers, catalytic converters in their vehicles and medical instruments and devices needed to repair or even save their bodies be mined in countries where leaders couldn't give a rat's behind about the environment?
But for now, these leased lands will not yet be home to mining projects, but instead possibly to exploration. In fact, only 2.4 percent of land in leases awarded have one drilled hole on it. And when the number of holes goes from one to two, the percentage drops even more.
And, we repeat ... THESE ARE HOLES IN THE GROUND, NOT MINING PROJECTS.
The 4-1 vote should have been unanimous.
We especially applaud the efforts of Attorney General Lori Swanson, who was the sole vote for the leases last December, and Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner-Solon, who was not at the December 2012 meeting but stood strong on the issue leading up to Friday's decision.
And we were pleased to see Gov. Mark Dayton supporting the awarding of the leases.
Secretary of State Mark Ritchie was a very reluctant "yes" vote. No political courage there.
Meanwhile, Auditor Rebecca Otto told other council members and the public that she had a "revelation" at 3:30 the morning of the meeting and had been awake since. Gee, thanks for sharing that with all of us, Auditor Otto.
The "revelation" evidently was about the safety of future generations regarding nonferrous mining, even though Minnesota has some of the strongest and most stringent mining regulations on the books.
The state auditor, of course, prefaced her "no" vote with the convenient political statement, "I'm not an opponent of mining ..." and then went on to vote against mining.
So she's not an opponent of mining, but she's against drilling a hole in the ground to see if an area could be mined?