New Mexico Lawsuit Challenges County’s Frack Sand Ban

A group of New Mexico property owners has sued Winona County over its ban on industrial mining of silica sand for use in hydraulic fracturing.

The Southeast Minnesota Property Owners joined Saratoga Township resident Roger Dabelstein in filing the lawsuit last week in state court, the Post-Bulletin reported.

The Winona County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to enact the ban on Nov. 22. The ordinance ended mining, transporting and processing silica sand for the purpose of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is a drilling process used to unlock underground oil and natural gas reserves.

But the ordinance allows those activities for other uses of silica sand, such as cattle bedding or construction.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Gary Van Cleve, said allowing some silica sand mining for some purposes but not others doesn’t provide equal protection. He said a better alternative would have been to regulate the industry, which was an option the commission considered.

“They’re banning certain kinds of sand mining, but other kinds are OK,” Van Cleve said. “As long as the end use is OK. There’s no rational basis for that.”

Commissioner Steve Jacob said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit. He previously argued that a ban could expose the county to litigation.

“I agreed with the criteria that they brought forth in the lawsuit,” Jacob said, declining to go into the specifics of the case.

Johanna Rupprecht of the Land Stewardship Project provided grass-roots support that helped enact the ban. She said the lawsuit contains the same arguments the industry made before the ban was passed.

“We view this lawsuit as an attack by outside corporate interests on Winona County’s democratic decision, and it’s outrageous,” she said.