Catholic Worker House confronts local frac sand mining

Photo by Farley Andrews Photo by Farley Andrews


One day I sat down to write in my journal. I typed the date and then the year— 2914. I looked at the year a couple of times and thought, “That doesn’t look right.” Finally I grasped that it was 900 years from now. Nine hundred years!!! Not just the future, but THE FUTURE. Holy cow! I felt the wonder I always feel when I contemplate primordial, ancient or medieval times—The passing of time. I started wondering about my great-great-great-great, etc. grandchildren. Who would they be? How would people live? Would people pair up into couples or would they form intimate pods of threes and fours? Would there still be races? Would Minneapolis still be here? How much of North America would be under water? Would there have been a nuclear holocaust? It was a strange, mystical experience.
I know a young woman who got a job in North Dakota working for the fracking industry. She makes a lot of money. While my young, gutsy (it’s a dangerous, “gold rush” milieu) friend is aware of what fracking might be doing to the earth and the humans on it 900 or even 100 years from now, her need to get on her feet financially right now overrides those concerns.
Fracking and frac sand mining are a boon to the economy. Both industries provide a huge number of jobs, and people make a lot of money investing in them. Who’s thinking about 900 years from now, or even 100? For the sake of survival in the present, many people can’t.
And it’s not easy to consider the long-term. The radical lifestyle of those who live in intentional communities, make very little money, consume as little as possible, pool their resources and protest environmental disaster is based on living for the long-term.
Some of these people live in the Phillips Neighborhood. They figure if they love each other, pray for each other and the world, have fun together (like dancing, drinking beer, singing karaoke and playing cribbage) and share their part-time incomes they can more easily make a radical difference. They model themselves after the hospitality houses created by Dorothy Day, a convert to Catholicism who devoted her life to people struggling with poverty, injustice and hopelessness.
One of these places, The Catholic Worker House, known as Rye House, puts on free, delicious community dinners every week; provides homework help for kids who live around them; grows organic vegetables and raises chickens (so as not to perpetuate our disastrous industrial food system); holds roundtable discussions;  offers resources for homeless people; and practices activism on issues important to them.
One of the main issues that concerns them is frac sand mining in western Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. They have participated in various demonstrations, together with the Land Stewardship Project, the Mennonite Worker House and many grassroots protesters in southeastern Minnesota, including other Catholic Worker Houses.
Frac sand mining provides the sand necessary to the fracking process. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas and oil from the shale rock layers deep within the earth by injecting a  high pressure fluid (usually sand and chemicals suspended in water).
As long as there is fracking, there will be a need for frac sand. There’s been a boom in frac sand mining around here since 2010. The sand found in our area is exactly the kind of sand needed. The closest mine to us is near Woodbury to your right driving along 94E. It’s called Preferred Sands and covers 90 acres. The sand is extracted from the earth in strip mines on farmland or on the bluffs along the Mississippi, then washed, loaded and shipped to western North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas The closest shipping dock to us is in the center of St. Paul.
With normal fracking the amount of frac sand needed for operations throughout the U.S. is something like 200 million pounds per day. Even more is needed for a new process called superfracking. The price of sand goes up as superfracking takes place. Struggling farmers are accepting huge amounts of money for their farmland.
Joe Kruse, a member of Rye House, talks about  the multiple accidents occurring because of heavy sand-hauling traffic and the crushing of crystal and silica that send particles into the air that cause cancer and scarring of lung tissue.  There’s also the problem caused by the removal of topsoil, the excessive use of water for processing plants, and the disturbance of aquatic and microbial life, he says.
Protesters essentially believe that frac sand mining is an environmental disaster; the frac sand industry will destroy Minnesota and rural communities. The Land Stewardship Project says that what’s at stake are ““people’s health and livelihoods, as well as well-being of the land.”
Kruse, who grew up in the Driftless area of western Wisconsin, says his opposition to frac sand mining comes out of his love for the land, the beauty of it, and his fear that it will ruin the trout fishing. Much bigger than that, though, is his deep conviction that the fracking process will alter the atmosphere and make our planet uninhabitable for future generations.
Rye House protested at the first two Frac Sands Conferences held by Industrial Metals in downtown Minneapolis, in September of 2013 and 2014. They had a chance to explain their position to industry people. On April 29, 2013, they blocked trucks at frac sand facilities in Winona. Kruse and 34 others were arrested. They were at the Earth Day protest at the Capitol in 2014.
Owing to the protests and pressure of many grassroots groups, some regulations have been put in place—the majority at the local level. Throughout the country, a third of them are done at the state level.  Minnesota has more regulations in place than Wisconsin. Recently the DNR enforced a regulation in Houston County, and the MPCA began monitoring the air in downtown Winona in 2013. Little by little.
While Kruse wants to see fracking and frac sand mining banned entirely, he is realistic about the situation. Demonstrating against frac sand mining brings about public awareness of the dangers of this industry. Ultimately the law responds and people are somewhat protected. But it takes a long time.
For me, The 900 years has become a metaphor for eternity, where you live in all of time, not just the moment of history in which you happen to find yourself. It’s a caring for life that extends beyond the short-term. I think that’s what the young adults in the Catholic Worker House are working on.
You are invited to learn more about Rye House Thursdays from 5 to 8 p.m. at 2204 10th Ave. S., 302-729-3643.

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