Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winona County, MN, frac sand ban

Even with the recent lull in the regional frac sand market, Winona County, in Minnesota, recently adopted an ordinance that bans further development of industrial sand mining operations.
Frac sand mining has been a contentious issue in Winona for several years and the ban represents an assertion of local control. Members of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), a Minnesota-based non-profit, had pushed for the ban since June of 2015. According to a statement by the LSP:

"The County Board passed the ban by a 3-2 vote in the form of an amendment to Winona County’s existing zoning ordinance. It prohibits any new operations for the production of industrial minerals, including the silica sand used in hydraulic fracturing."

The ban comes amid signs that frac sand mining may begin to intensify once again following a two-year downturn.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sand Mines Reopening

Here's another report from last week on the expected rebound of demand for frac sand. According to the article, "Wisconsin frac sand producers say they are poised for another sand boom after an agonizing two-year lull." Some industry folk anticipate returning to 2014 production levels next year.

However, not all observers are so optimistic.

"Oil industry analytical firm IHS is a little more guarded in its predictions for the frac sand market in 2017. Managing Director Samir Nangia expects demand to grow by 15 percent per year. The most recent IHS ProppantIQ report states there are around 20 idled sand mines in the U.S., most of them in Wisconsin, accounting for 26 million tons of idled frac sand production capacity."

See the full article: Rich Kremer, "Wisconsin Frac Sand Producers Bullish About Market Rebound," WPR, December 1, 2016.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Signs of a come back?

Stock for frac sand companies appears to have risen in value following indications that OPEC intends to cut production, thereby triggering increased demand for U.S. fracking. Is this the dawn of a new phase of frac sand mining development in Wisconsin?

As one observer notes, "Frack sand could be a very interesting industry as we head into 2017 and beyond. Many of the advances in shale drilling in recent years -- drilling longer horizontal portions of wells, doing more fracking stages per linear foot of horizontal well, and using more sand per individual fracking stage -- all point to sand volumes growing at a pace much faster than overall drilling activity."

For the full discussion, see:

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Save the Hills Alliance, Annual Meeting - Oct. 29, 2016

Fifth Annual Meeting Event Announcement - Sat., October 29, 2016
1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. - Veteran's Center - Menomonie, WI
Save The Hills Alliance, Inc. - FLYER ATTACHED

This year's program will concentrate on the social impacts of frac sand mining and quality of life, as well as the role that citizens play in public policy as it relates to regulatory oversight and protection of their communities.

Speakers - THOMAS W. PEARSON, Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Social Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, WI, and KIMBERLEE WRIGHT, Attorney and Executive Director of Midwest Environmental Advocates in Madison, WI.

Speaker, Thomas W. Pearson, received his PhD from the State University of New York at Binghamton and has conducted extensive research in Central America on environmental activism. He has been researching the social dimensions of frac sand mining in the area for the past four years, particularly grassroots activism and community-level conflicts. He is currently working on a book, tentatively titled, When the Hills Are Gone: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Place, Community, and Democracy, which will be published in 2017 by the University of Minnesota Press.

Speaker, Kimberlee Wright, received her law degree and a BS in rural sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she has worked statewide in the public interest on issues ranging from elder law, environmental protection, conservation, and support for people affected by family violence. She has served as the director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy and executive director for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services, and she has managed a statewide grant program for land trusts working in partnership with the DNR to protect critical habitat and natural areas. 

Our speakers will be introduced by Dave Carlson. Dave is known from his long running  TV series, "Northland Adventures" and  "Northland Outdoors." Dave has received many awards for his conservation journalism. He will also moderate a period of questions and answers.

We will also present a short preview of Jim Tittle's upcoming documentary, "Promise in the Sand," which will take a look at what really happened after the frac sand boom hit Minnesota and Wisconsin as depicted in his 2013 documentary, "The Price of Sand."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Frac Sand Mining and the Disruption of Place, Landscape, and Community in Wisconsin

I'm very pleased to share an article which was just published by Human Organization, a peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Applied Anthropology. The article is based on in-depth interviews and examines the impact of frac sand mining on people's sense of community, quality of life, and place. Please feel free to contact me if you would like a PDF copy of the article or if you have any comments.

Article Citation:

Thomas W. Pearson (2016) Frac Sand Mining and the Disruption of Place, Landscape, and Community in Wisconsin. Human Organization: Spring 2016, Vol. 75, No. 1, pp. 47-58.


Driven by hydraulic fracturing, sand mining has expanded rapidly in western Wisconsin, with hundreds of mining operations appearing over the past several years. Silica sand is extracted from hills and then shipped by rail around the country, where it is pumped under high pressure with water and chemicals into oil and gas wells. An often overlooked dimension of America's unconventional energy boom, the growth of sand mining in Wisconsin has been incredibly divisive, generating wealth for some lucky landowners while creating new environmental hazards for others. This article documents how people experience mining-related changes and conflicts, drawing on ethnographic interviews with residents living next to mines, processing plants, and hauling routes. While not everyone experiences mining equally, I argue that people grappling with a sudden influx of mining activity suffer significant disruptions that erode their sense of place and belonging. These experiences, however, are rarely taken into account by policymakers, local officials, or others seeking to evaluate the costs and benefits of frac sand mining. This omission underscores the need for ethnographic research to deepen our understanding of how people are impacted by new resource extraction industries.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Health Impact Assessment

The Institute for Wisconsin's Health, Inc. (IWHI), a non-profit, recently released a "Health Impact Assessment of Industrial Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin." The report was produced in collaboration with 15 local and tribal health departments and summarizes existing research addressing air quality, water resources, land reclamation, and quality of life.

It was quickly noted by local media that the report downplays health concerns related to silica dust, one of the more contentious environmental health issues raised by frac sand mining. The report concludes that as currently regulated it is unlikely that people living near frac sand operations will be exposed to respirable crystalline silica.

Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA), an organization that has advocated for stricter regulations of frac sand mining, criticized the IWHI report for relying on industry-sponsored studies that focus primarily on larger PM10 particles. Findings from a study being conducted by Dr. Crispin Pierce, director of UW-Eau Claire's environmental public health program, were not addressed in the IWHI report. Pierce's study, recently published in the Journal of Environmental Quality, focuses on smaller PM2.5 particles. His study has found elevated levels of PM2.5 particles near frac sand operations. MEA also criticized the IWHI report for ignoring the potentially higher risk presented in localized settings where multiple frac sand operations are clustered.

While the issue of air quality has received significant attention, the IWHI report also suggests that frac sand mining is likely to affect people's quality of life, disrupting their sense of place and cultural heritage. The report is rather vague in its findings, however.

The impact of frac sand mining on quality of life and sense of place is a question addressed in my own research, which, coincidentally, I discuss in an article that will be published in the next few weeks entitled "Frac Sand Mining and the Disruption of Place, Landscape, and Community in Wisconsin," Human Organization, 75(1). I will be sure to post that article when it finally appears in print.