Monday, November 6, 2017

It's out! When the Hills Are Gone

Yes, it's finally here! After a long and sometimes intense process, When the Hills Are Gone was released in print last week.

When all is said and done, this book project lasted over five years from the start of research to the end product. Research began in early 2012 and I started putting pen to paper while the fieldwork was ongoing, publishing an article in 2013. I drafted a formal book proposal and three sample chapters in early 2015. After positive feedback from three university presses all interested in the project, I signed a contract with the University of Minnesota Press in September 2015. I then delivered a full manuscript by June of 2016 and a final manuscript by October of last year. I went through the copy edits in March and April of 2017, and then the final page proofs this past June and July. And now here it is:

An overlooked part of fracking’s environmental impact becomes a window into the activists and industrial interests fighting for the future of energy production—and the fate of rural communities 

WHEN THE HILLS ARE GONE: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community
By Thomas W. Pearson
University of Minnesota Press - November 2017

When the Hills Are Gone tells the story of Wisconsin’s sand mining wars. Providing on-the-ground accounts from both the mining industry and the concerned citizens who fought back, Thomas W. Pearson blends social theory, ethnography, stirring journalism, and his own passionate point of view to offer an essential chapter of Wisconsin’s history and an important episode in the national environmental movement.


“Thomas W. Pearson takes us to the front lines of one of the great under-reported environmental issues in America today—how the fracking industry’s hunger for sand is impacting rural Wisconsin. His deep research and intimate portraits of people on all sides of the controversy make this an important and timely read for anyone concerned about our country’s environment, natural resources, and what happens when the needs of big business collide with those of ordinary citizens.” —Vince Beiser, journalist

"When the Hills Are Gone is a riveting, sobering story about local democracy at the whipped-around tail-end of the frack-driven oil and gas boom that has rocked the United States since the turn of the millennium. The writing is lively and reflective—deftly portraying the many micro-tactics through which local democracy can be undercut and the many kinds of people working against this in rural Wisconsin. This is critical reading for understanding contemporary politics on the ground."—Kim Fortun, University of California, Irvine

“A masterful blend of stories and scholarship that will be the definitive account of a major environmental justice issue. Thomas W. Pearson is fair-minded and unflinching as he traces the erasure of place and the scramble to salvage community and democracy.” —Adam Briggle, author of A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking

“The churning engine of the global energy economy always touches down in local places, sometimes to brutal effect. Thomas W. Pearson provides a compelling and deeply personal story of one such place, the sand hills of Wisconsin. Both an ethnography and a study of state and local politics, When the Hills Are Gone richly describes community divisions and sudden activism in places where disruptive environmental change is ongoing.” —Paul Robbins, director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Thomas W. Pearson is associate professor of anthropology and assistant director of the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. His research has been published in American Anthropologist, Cultural Anthropology, American Ethnologist, Human Organization, and other academic journals. He lives in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

For more information, including the table of contents, visit the book's webpage:

Monday, October 9, 2017

STHA 2017 Annual Meeting

Effective Communication and Civic Engagement: 
Strategies, Techniques & Importance

Saturday, October 21, 2017 – 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Roger Marten Community Center
120 S. Franklin Street, Mondovi, WI
 (Just South of US-10 in the City of Mondovi)

               Speaker, LeAnn R. Ralph, is a staff writer for the Colfax Messenger and the Glenwood City Tribune Press Reporter. She has been writing for newspapers for 20 years and also has written for the Dunn County News, the Country Today and the Janesville Gazette. LeAnn earned an undergraduate degree in English with a writing emphasis from UW-Whitewater, and she earned a Master of Arts in Teaching from UW-Whitewater. LeAnn is the author of five books of true stories about growing up on a small family dairy farm in West Central Wisconsin. She has been covering frac sand mines since the first mine in this area was proposed by Fairmount Minerals near Menomonie in 2006 and has written about proposals for sand mines, reclamation permits, environmental impacts, public hearings, conditional use permits, mine licensing agreements, the state Supreme Court decision regarding the Town of Cooks Valley, and boreholes. LeAnn also serves as a supervisor on the Otter Creek Town Board in Dunn County.
Presentation: Communicating in a Democracy: Letters to the Editor and speaking to elected officials. The four strands of the language arts — reading, writing, speaking and listening — are an important component of a participatory democracy. Writing Letters to the Editor for local newspapers, speaking during public comments sections of county boards, town boards, village boards and city councils and contacting state representatives and senators are an essential part of civic engagement. If you do not let elected officials know what you are thinking about a particular issue, such as frac sand mining, and how it will impact the environment, and your communities and neighborhoods, including roads and property values, they will not know their constituents’ positions. During this presentation you will learn more about communicating effectively through Letters to the Editor and will work on writing a letter. Editors love to publish letters from local residents on issues that will affect the community — with an emphasis on local, because they know their readers enjoy reading Letters to the Editor. Broadcasting a more generic Letter to the Editor to all 400+ newspapers in the state is not nearly as effective. During this presentation you will also learn more about communicating with elected officials — how to go about it, what to say and when to say it, and you will work on your own set of talking points that you can take to your next town board meeting, county board meeting or listening session of a state legislator. Let your voice be heard. Speak up!

                Speaker, Ken Tschumper, is a retired dairy farmer who lives with his wife, Robin, near La Crescent, Minnesota on a farm his great grandparents homesteaded in 1867. He graduated from Winona State University in 1972 with a Degree in Biology. A life-long progressive Democrat, Ken has been involved in politics since the Vietnam War. He has served on the Governor’s Dairy Task Force, an Advisory Board to the Land Stewardship Project, and on the La Crescent Town Board. In 2006, Ken was elected to a term in the Minnesota Legislature. Among other committees, he served on the Health and Human Services Committee and was the chief author of the Minnesota Single Payer Healthcare bill, convincing 30 other members of the House to sign on as co-sponsors. He passed an update of the State Groundwater Protection Bill and was the only freshman legislator appointed to the Conference Committee for the Clean Indoor Air Act which eliminated smoking in public places and exposure to second hand smoke. In the last five years Ken and his wife, Robin, have spent their time and energy working to stop frac sand mining in southeastern Minnesota.
               Presentation: We Need to Think Faster, Smarter and Bigger. Ken’s presentation will focus on techniques for better communications to and for individuals, groups and the public, especially using some aspects of current technology. He feels strongly that the anti-frac sand mining movement and other progressive movements, as well, have the potential to be much more effective and produce much more positive results.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

CAFE Interview

Over four years ago I published "Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin: Understanding Emerging Conflicts and Community Organizing" in an academic journal called CAFE, which is sponsored by the Culture and Agriculture section of the American Anthropological Association. The journal recently invited me to talk about what's been going on with my research since publication of the article. I was quite honored to do this and it was neat to reflect on how my work has evolved over the years, leading, ultimately, to my book on frac sand mining, which is set to come out next month.

The interview is now on the Culture and Agriculture blog. Here's my favorite line from the interview, which pretty much captures my vision for the book too: "I wrote this article with a general audience in mind and sought to minimize the theory sloganeering and nonsensical scholarly dribble that spoils so much of academic anthropology today."

Full interview is available on the Culture and Agriculture blog

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sand mining growth in Texas

A recent Houston Chronicle report explains that booming Permian Basin oil production in Texas is fueling demand for frac sand. It claims that the "largest wells now consume up to 25,000 tons" of sand, or 50 million pounds each, up from 1,500 tons several years ago. More sand has typically meant more productivity when a well is fracked.

Availability of sand, however, is temporarily limited. Due to high transportation costs, companies such as Fairmount Santrol, Hi-Crush, Smart Sand, Preferred Sand, U.S. Silica, and Emerge Energy -- all active in recent years in western Wisconsin -- are opening new mines or expanding existing operations in Texas.

Although "northern white sand" from Wisconsin is considered to be higher quality, "Texas brown sand" is "cheaper and closer."

Energy companies such as Halliburton also claim they are "developing injection chemicals that can help increase the oil flow from wells as opposed to simply blasting more sand."

The report quotes industry analysts, however, who believe that fracking will still require increasing amounts of sand.

See Jordan Blum, "Has fracking reached peak sand?," Houston Chronicle, July 25, 2017.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Glenn Stoddard, 1958-2017

I was very saddened to learn that Glenn Stoddard passed away last month after a recurrence of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Stoddard was an environmental and civil rights lawyer who represented many citizens and grassroots groups fighting against the expansion of frac sand mining in their communities.

Prior to opening Stoddard Law Office in 2005 in Eau Claire, Stoddard practiced law in Madison with Ed Garvey, who was known, among other things, as the founder of Fighting Bob Fest, an annual event celebrating Wisconsin's progressive political traditions. For many years, Garvey and Stoddard, S.C. was one of the most influential civil rights and environmental law firms in Wisconsin.

As frac sand mining emerged and matured as an issue, Stoddard spoke frequently at public forums and helped educate concerned citizens and local officials about the tools available to regulate or deter frac sand mining. At at time when many area law firms cultivated ties to the ballooning frac sand industry, Stoddard was viewed as an independent, trustworthy community advocate and defender of the environment.

In relation to frac sand mining, Stoddard was probably best known for developing a nonmetallic mining licensing ordinance for Cooks Valley in 2008, an unzoned township in Chippewa County. After drafting what was then an innovative ordinance, he assisted in defending the town when it was sued by mining interests. In the 2012 landmark decision of Zwiefelhofer v. Town of Cooks Valley, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the right of towns to regulate frac sand mining through such licensing ordinances. The ruling was a significant juncture in what remains an ongoing battle over the rights of local communities when confronting harmful land-use practices introduced by powerful corporate interests.

In addition to his work on frac sand mining issues, Stoddard also formed part of the legal team opposing the Gogebic Taconite Mine in the Penokees and he was involved in many other prominent environmental cases. Stoddard's obituary, which he wrote in his final days, was published in the Ashland Daily Press and the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Coming soon: When the Hills Are Gone

I'm very excited to announce the forthcoming publication of my book on grassroots activism and frac sand mining in Wisconsin! Titled "When the Hills Are Gone: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community," it will be published by the University of Minnesota Press in November 2017. It is now listed on their webpage.