I developed this "research blog" to compile information about the rapidly evolving industry of frac sand mining, especially its social, economic, and environmental impacts. This blog also allows me to disseminate some of my impressions, observations, and social analysis in a public manner.

I am also the author of When the Hills Are Gone: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community, published by the University of Minnesota Press in November 2017.

Fairmount mine, outside of Menomonie, WI. Photo courtesy of Jim Tittle, The Price of Sand.

The Author and Researcher

I am a cultural anthropologist and associate professor in the social science department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Between 2012 and 2016, my research focused on the social and environmental changes caused by the expansion of frac sand mining in western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota, with a focus on grassroots activism and community-level social and political conflicts.

In my research, I used ethnographic methods, such as participant observation and informal interviewing, to document how local communities respond to the changes caused by frac sand operations. Three general questions guided my inquiry:
  1. How does society determine who has the right to permanently transform the natural environment? What explicit or tacit ethical considerations come into play? When are concerns about fairness, equity, environmental justice factored in? How do various actors, such as citizens, local governments, and private companies, negotiate and contest the right to transform shared landscapes and exploit natural resources through mining? 
  2. What impact does this have on local communities and democratic processes? How does the rapid expansion of industrial scale frac sand mining affect community cohesion and local democratic control over land use, natural resources, and decision-making processes? How do large-scale economic and political forces influence local conflicts over frac sand? How do such forces trigger dramatic land-use changes in specific places? 
  3. What new forms of community organizing have taken shape in response to frac sand mining?How and why numerous do local citizens groups organize to address frac sand issues?  
The research culminated in the publication of When the Hills Are Gone in late 2017. I am still following the frac sand mining issue, but also expanding my focus more broadly to look at the environmental justice implications of fossil fuel transport systems in the Great Lakes region. This next project is called Pathways of Power.

I welcome comments on this research or my blog.

Thomas W. Pearson
University of Wisconsin-Stout

I'm the guy on the far left.
This photo was taken in Bridge Creek, Eau Claire, in 2014. Courtesy of Public Lab.

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