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The Sand Rush- Sand Mining

Wisconsin's connection to fracking

Hydrofracturing, or “fracking,” is the controversial process used to extract natural gas and oil from hard-to-reach shale deposits. In the process, high volumes of water, high-quality sand, and chemicals
are forced into shale rock formations to hold open fissures to allow fossil fuels to be extracted. The process has been known to pollute our air and water and even cause earthquakes. Fortunately, Wisconsin doesn’t have any known natural gas deposits, but our state does have a connection to this awful gas fracking industry.

Wisconsin and other states in our area are “blessed” with beautiful hills along the Mississippi River and into the central part of the state. These bluffs are filled with the high-quality silica sand needed for fracking, called frac-sand. Frac-sand needs to be grains of ideal size, shape, strength, and purity—and there needs to be a lot of it. Each natural gas or oil well (there are thousands of them) uses as much as 3 million pounds of sand in its lifetime. Three-fourths of this sand comes from the Midwest. 


As a result of this “sand rush”, mining companies are using openpit, hilltop removal mining in Wisconsin that is destroying landscapes, quality of life, and poisoning our air and water.

Problems with these frac-sand mines:

  • Some operate around the clock and throughout the entire year
  • Neighbors find their beautiful hills leveled and replaced with 100-foot pits
  • rural peace & quiet replaced with a noisy stream of trains and semi-trucks
  • Sand mining containment ponds have breached, dumping process water and sediment
    onto farms and into streams and rivers.
  • This mining transforms our quaint rural towns into giant industrial zones.
  • Fine silica dust is known as a common hazard in the workplace creating serious concerns for those working at the mines and companies are required to take work-place precautions. However, there is not enough information to know the potential risks frac-sand mining poses to the surrounding community.
  • Silica sand can lead to increased levels of particulate matter in the air.
  • Water overuse is one of the most concerning impacts of frac-sand mining. Water is used for transporting, cleaning, sorting and dust control.  A recent WDNR study showed that with evaporation and water that is incorporated into the sand, a system can use anywhere from 420,500 to 2 million gallons of water per day, or 292 to 1380 gallons per minute. Open-loop systems, or those that do not recycle the water, can use up to 3,000 gallons per minute.
  • The sand is washed with several chemicals, including polyacrylamides that could contain acrylamides. Drinking water contaminated with acrylamides can result in problems with the nervous system or blood and can even increase the risk of getting cancer.

What can be done?

Local activists are turning people out to public hearings, questioning the mining companies and educating people in the area about the dangers that exist. Once one mine is stopped, after hours and hours of fighting, the companies just pop up with a new mine in the next town over.

The one action that has had some success in blocking new frac-sand mines are moratoriums. Towns, cities, and counties have established short moratoriums in order to better study the impacts of mining proposals. Sand mine companies have actively fought against these moratoriums. For example, High Country Sand sued Eau Claire County after the county established a moratorium on the company’s proposed mine. Worse, in the last days of the legislative session, the legislature passed 2011 Wisconsin Act 144. The law makes it far more difficult for cities, towns, and villages to establish development moratorium ordinances, effectively blocking local communities from creating moratoriums.

The Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter is calling for a moratorium on the permitting of any frac-sand mining permits until the state conducts a comprehensive study of the impacts and the dequacy of local control. The mining companies claim they are bringing jobs into the area. Wisconsin is desperate for jobs, especially in small towns like those in the frac-sand area, but there are better ways to create jobs.

We need to save our hills and our beautiful landscapes before they are gone forever. The Sierra Club is working to educate people about this destruction and encourage elected officials to get involved. If you
would like to get involved, please contact Elizabeth Ward at elizabeth.



1.) Call or E-mail and let us know about your fight.  We can help connect you to others.

2.) Check out Midwest Environmental Advocates' great Citizen's Guide to fighting sand mines


Picture Credit: Allamakee Proctors, Ric Zarwell, Iowa


*Sand mining article in the Muir View

* Save The Hills Alliance: (Frac Sand Times sent weekly)
* Save Our Knapp Hills Alliance Facebook page (tons of links and photos)
* Buffalo County:
* Dunn County Sand google site

* Township Rights:
* (land trust recently bought Twin Bluffs for peregrine habitat-mine co. wanted it).

*Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice Informational Pamphlet

*Thec Economic Benefits and Costs of Frac-Sand Mining Webinar, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Wisconsin Towns Association

*Gasland - fracking (Josh Fox)
*The Price Of Sand - sand mining, Jim Tittle (2012 release)
*The Last Mountain - Coal Mining Mountaintop Removal (Kennedy)