How one frac sand mine company sneaked into Missouri

Nov 13, 2013

Jim Hardy, who lives near the proposed frac sand mine in Ste. Genevieve County, tells the Department of Natural Resources at a September meeting that his wife’s health condition would be impacted if the mine was permitted to operate.
Credit Kristofor Husted / KBIA

A controversial new frac sand mine expects to hear soon if its permit has been issued allowing it to set up shop in Ste. Genevieve County. The sand from these types of mines is used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Much of the Ste. Genevieve community is upset with how they say the company, Summit Proppants, essentially sneaked into their backyard.

The Kentucky-based mining company first caught heat from local community members when it used a legal loophole in a state ordinance to secure the land for mining without notifying nearby residents of its intention.  Mining companies have to inform any adjacent property owners of its purpose for the land by certified mail. But Summit Proppants drew its boundary for the mine inside the 73 acres it leased.  Think of it as a larger rectangle with a slightly smaller one sitting inside. That strategy effectively protected the company from contacting several nearby residents directly.

At a public meeting with the company in May, about 100 Ste. Genevieve County peppered Summit Proppants owner Mark Rust with questions of why they weren’t notified. Jim Hardy, who lives about 1,000 feet from the proposed mine, says he’s also upset the mine chose to make its presence known through a newspaper his neighbors don’t subscribe to.

Only a few feet sit between the boundary line of the Summit Proppants mine permit area and the total area of the property leased in Ste. Genevieve County.
Credit Courtesy of Missouri Department of Natural Resources

“We found out by accident that the mine was being proposed,” Hardy says. “We contacted the county to find out how it was going to be communicated. They said well it’s going to be communicated in the Ste. Genevieve Herald. And I said ‘Well gee whiz, people around here don’t take that newspaper. They utilize the daily journal.’”

Hardy ended up subscribing to the Herald and handed out copies of the notice to his neighbors. Many of the neighbors then wrote to the county and to Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources requesting a meeting with the DNR and Summit Proppants.

Missouri only has a handful of frac sand mines operating along its eastern border. Several nearby states, such as Minnesota and Wisconsin, which is ground zero for frac sand mining, are also facing an uproar of opposition. Communities are concerned with the health and environmental consequences the burgeoning industry is bringing. Those concerns have trickled down to Missouri.

State Senator Gary Romine has one frac sand mine in his district as well as the possible new Summit Proppants mine. He says he’s received quite a few calls and drop-ins on the issue.

“The issue and one of the primary concerns is the disruption of the quiet life in the rural area that they've enjoyed, but also the health concerns,” he says. “The fine particles from the frac sand is very hazardous and has been has equated to asbestos.”

Romine also says even though Summit Proppants has said it will abide by the standard regulations the DNR would set with an issued permit, it’s hard to trust the company because of the way its relationship began with the community.

"...if we can't trust you on how you actually acquired the property and got this started, how can we trust you on anything else?" -State Sen. Gary Romine

“When we get to this issue on how they were able to take on the property and not have to notify the folks, it was a realization that if we can't trust you on how you actually acquired the property and got this started, how can we trust you on anything else?” Romine says.

The republican senator says he’s working on legislation to close the loophole Summit used. It would create a distance from the mine, instead of using contiguous property lines to determine who is notified about a possible mine. But, that will most likely have no effect on the issuance of a permit for the Summit Proppants mine.

The DNR’s Land Reclamation Commission is scheduled to discuss issuing the permit Nov. 21.