Thursday, January 3, 2013

New forms of wealth and division

As part of their periodic series called "Frac Sand Fever," the Star Tribune recently reported about community divisions stemming from frac sand development in western Wisconsin.

In a piece titled "Sand Mining Creates Wealth and Friction" (Dec. 2, 2012), reporter Curt Brown tells the story of Lou Ellen and Jim Frei, a couple in their late 60s who have lived in Blair, WI, in Trempealeau County, for 40 years, and who sold their dairy farm to a frac sand company in 2010 for half a million dollars. Here are some of the financial figures cited in the story:

  • Winn Bay Sand Co. paid the couple, along with three neighbors, $3850 per acre (for their 143 acres). They retained 10 years of rights to continue farming, logging, and hunting. 
  • Preferred Sands bought an 80 acre parcel in 2010 for $250,000 (or $3,125 an acre).
  • Brown reports on rumors of people receiving $10,000 an acre; he writes that the Texas oil and gas company Windsor Permian "has offered more than $15,000 an acre for a possible mining site near Red Wing."
From my perspective, it's interesting to examine how people try to make sense of the rapid social and economic changes associated with frac sand mining. Using a popular culture reference, one neighbor described the influx of frac sand wealth as a rural "rags to riches" story, and subtly frames the hills of rural Wisconsin as a nuisance: 
  • "It's like the Beverly Hillbillies: Who would have thought these hills we've been tipping our tractors over on all these years would become such a hot commodity?" - Lorna Tenneson