Project: Wisconsin’s sand rush

Frac sand mining industry booms in western Wisconsin

From bottom right, a conveyor carries sand from the crushing area to a wash plant tower to be washed and sorted by grain size at the Preferred Sands plant in Blair, Wis., on June 20, 2012. Lukas Keapproth/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Our reports

Frac sand mines credited for rising, dropping property values

Accessible sand can bring a windfall for some landowners. Others worry that proximity to sand mines is bringing down the value of their homes. And in some communities, a safety net of sorts is emerging. March 30, 2014

New frac sand bill still divides

A legislative hearing on a revised attempt to limit local governments’ authority to regulate nonmetallic mining, including existing frac sand mines, drew support from mining representatives but opposition from town leaders. March 3, 2014
Earlier: Sand mining bill could also affect iron mine, factory farms Oct. 24, 2013
Earlier: Bill would limit local control of frac sand mining; Communities ‘trying to establish mini-DNRs,’ Tiffany says Oct. 17, 2013

With frac sand boom in full swing, study to guide mine reclamation

Mining companies, Chippewa County and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls are teaming up on a $232,000, five-year study probing how the vast tracts of Wisconsin used for nonmetallic mining — including for frac sand — can best be reclaimed. Feb. 5, 2014

Frac sand company faces $200,000 in water, air penalties

Among other violations, in May 2012, a plume of sediment-laden stormwater left the Preferred Sands site and flooded a creek and an adjacent wetland, according to the complaint. The civil judgment is the first brought against a frac sand mining company in Wisconsin. Dec. 17, 2013

Glenwood City incumbents lead in recall elections sparked by frac sand

In this northwestern Wisconsin city, some residents had criticized what they called a lack of transparency, saying city officials negotiated privately with a sand mining company. Dec. 17, 2013
• Earlier: City’s frac sand mine battle spurs recalls Nov. 17, 2013

Sand mining bill could also affect iron mine, factory farms

The impact of SB 349, a controversial bill that would restrict local government regulation of frac sand mines, might be broader than originally thought, opponents said. But while about 125 protesters rallied outside the Capitol hearing, backers insisted that the bill is needed to streamline regulations for frac sand mining companies. Oct. 17, 2013
• Plus: Bill would limit local control of frac sand mining; Communities ‘trying to establish mini-DNRs,’ Tiffany says

Frac sand health fears rise as mining booms in Wisconsin

Like some other west-central Wisconsin residents, Frances and Dean Sayles are frustrated with the state Department of Natural Resources’ lack of a comprehensive approach to addressing concerns surrounding potential health problems from crystalline silica dust. Now some residents, academics, local government officials and even a frac sand producer have begun taking action. Oct. 6, 2013

Report: ‘Little impact’ from sand mining jobs

A new report says that the overall economic impact of frac sand mining will minimal, and cautions communities to consider the potential costs of mining along with the benefits. May 16, 2013

Frac sand industry faces DNR violations, warnings

Nearly a fifth of Wisconsin’s 70 active frac sand mines and processing plants were cited for environmental violations last year, as the industry continued to expand at a rapid clip. March 3, 2013

As supply meets demand, Wisconsin’s sand rush slows

The rapid growth in Wisconsin’s frac sand industry is slowing, thanks to lower prices and increased supply. The sand is still in demand, but people who expected that they could get rich quick on the state’s sandy soils may be disappointed. Dec. 15, 2012

Conference draws 50 frac sand protesters

More than 50 people gathered Monday to protest frac sand mining outside a conference on the silica sand resources of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Concerns about the health, safety, and environmental impacts of the sudden boom in new industrial sand mining facilities are shared by many across the Upper Midwest. Oct. 2, 2012

Frac sand boom creates thousands of jobs

Currently, there are no official employment numbers for the state’s rapidly expanding frac sand industry. But the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, using job-site estimates developed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, found that when existing mines and those being built are fully operating, the industry will employ about 2,780 people. Aug. 19, 2012

Wisconsin frac sand sites double

Frac sand fever has hit much of west-central Wisconsin, catching residents and local governments by surprise when demand for sand suddenly soared and permit applications began to pour in. The number of Wisconsin frac sand mining operations has more than doubled in the past year. July 22, 2012

Are frac sand miners failing to check for rare butterfly?

There’s a new wrinkle in Wisconsin’s fast-growing frac sand mining: It turns out that an endangered butterfly, the Karner blue, lives in the same region. And some companies may be failing to check for the butterfly as they move ahead with mining operations. Jan. 31, 2012

Sand mining surges in Wisconsin

This western Wisconsin community is in the midst of a land rush — call it a sand rush — fueled by exploding nationwide demand for fine silica sand used in hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas. At least 16 frac sand mines and processing facilities are operating, and an additional 25 sites are proposed. July 31, 2011

“We have the best sand in the world.”
— Tom Woletz, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Wisconsin’s sand is in demand for use in the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Frac sand mining has surged in recent years, growing from a handful of sites to at least 115 permitted facilities. This growth boom has divided communities across sandy western Wisconsin — those who believe mining will create sorely needed jobs against those who fear the consequences these mines may have on human health, road safety and the environment.


Frac sand industry across Wisconsin, October 2013

You can download a spreadsheet of the data here: Frac sand mines and plants, October 2013 update


Alison Dirr covers the frac sand beat. Contact her with tips.


The health risks of silica dust

On Wisconsin Public Radio: The Center’s Tegan Wendland reported on the health controversy from New Auburn, a western Wisconsin village with two frac sand mines on its edges. Oct. 7, 2013

On Wisconsin Public Television: Here and Now visited sand mines in Menomonie and Maiden Rock and talked with Crispin Pierce, a professor of environmental public health at UW-Eau Claire, about the potential health risks from silica dust exposure.


The demand for sand

“We might have enough (facilities) in place right now. Twenty to 25 of these big locations could meet the national demand.”
-Tom Beekman, Wisconsin Department of Transportation, December 2012.



Economic growth and environmental concerns

“The biggest impact we’ve seen is the job creation. There were 150 unemployed truck drivers in Chippewa County coming out of the great recession. Now, we have a shortage.”
-Charlie Walker, president of the Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation, Aug 2012.


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