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.