Frac Sand Mining in Wisconsin: Understanding Emerging Conflicts and Community Organizing


  • Thomas W. Pearson

    1. University of Wisconsin-Stout, Menomonie, WI
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    • Thomas W. Pearson is a cultural anthropologist and teaches in the Social Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where he is also affiliated for the 2012–2013 academic year with the Center for Applied Ethics.


Over the past few years industrial sand mining has expanded rapidly in western Wisconsin, driven largely by the use of sand in hydraulic fracturing, itself a controversial technology widely deployed in natural gas and oil drilling throughout the United States. A unique geological history combined with existing railroad networks has positioned Wisconsin as a major supplier of “frac sand” and thus a key link in a wider hydrocarbon commodity chain. The unprecedented growth of frac sand mining, however, has raised new social and environmental concerns, becoming the target of grassroots organizing. This article reports on ongoing ethnographic research focused on frac sand conflicts, providing an overview of the main areas of contention, the trajectory of community organizing, and the response of the mining industry.