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Illinois fracking bill watched closely in Missouri

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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — Illinois residents aren't the only people closely watching a hydraulic fracturing bill under consideration in Springfield, Ill. Missouri mining organizations have a keen interest, too.

The Southeast Missourian reported Sunday that the Missouri mining industry stands to gain from an increased need for silica sand, which is critical in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Illinois HB2615 would create the Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Regulatory Act. Passage would subject fracking in Illinois to some of the nation's strictest regulations. Drilling companies have held off on the process until they have known what regulations they would face. Fracking is banned in several states, but supporters say the process helps drive prices down by allowing drilling in unconventional areas.

Fracking has been used in vertical mining operations in Illinois since 1947, said Bob Bauer of the Illinois State Geological Survey. Energy companies are buying leases in southeastern Illinois, but he said they are based on speculation. There is no absolute proof the state will yield significant oil or gas resources, he said.

Missouri is not an abundant resource of oil or natural gas, but it is a resource for silica sand. That is creating concern among Missouri environmentalists.

"As fracking expands, there will be increasing pressure to mine sand here in Missouri," John Hickey, director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club. "Due to the extremely high volume of sand used in fracking, there is a danger that expanded sand mining here will cause environmental damage."

Several silica sand operations already exist in Missouri. Texas-based FTS International operates a mine in Perryville, north of Cape Girardeau. Other mines are on the outskirts of the St. Louis area: Mississippi Sand LLC, based in suburban St. Louis, produces silica sand in a mine near Festus, Mo. Connecticut's Unimin Corp. has a silica sand operation in Pevely, Mo. And U.S. Silica Holdings Inc., of Maryland, has a mine in Pacific, Mo.

The January 2013 Mineral Commodity Summary by the U.S. Geological Survey says Missouri is the sixth-largest producer of industrial sand and gravel, and the price is rising quickly. The average ton cost $44.78 in 2012, up from $30.82 just four years earlier.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press