Frack sand: A $10 billion industry, turning rural counties inside-out

Giant mounds of sand sit by a rail spur at an 800-acre frac-sand facility run by Hi-Crush Partners in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. The facility can ship 10,000 tons a day, enough to load up an entire freight train.

Giant mounds of sand sit by a rail spur at an 800-acre frac-sand facility run by Hi-Crush Partners in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin. The facility can ship 10,000 tons a day, enough to load up an entire freight train.

A four-part series for Marketplace.

Part 1
Fracking Makes Sand a $10 billion industry

Thanks to the fracking revolution,  one of the most common substances on earth — sand — has become a $10 billion industry. At times, some oil and gas producers have not been able to get enough. Read more… 

part 2
sand turns a rural county upside-down

The fracking boom has transformed rural Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, and areas like it. There’s no oil or gas here —  just sand, the kind oil and gas drillers prefer. Publicly-traded companies have rushed in, digging enormous mines. Trempealeau — on the western side of the state, population 28,000 or so — has more mines than any other county.

“The onset of industrial sand-mining pretty much flipped our county upside-down,” says Kevin Lien, who runs the county’s Department of Land Management. “And that’s probably an understatement.” Read more…

part 3
frac-sand companies get creative with local politics

In mid-2013, the Trempealeau County board declared a year-long moratorium on new mining permits.  Mining companies looked closely at how local government is structured in rural Wisconsin… and got creative.

The county only regulates mining in unincorporated areas. So mining companies went to some of the cities of Trempealeau County and asked to be annexed.

Like the City of Independence— population 1,363 — now home to two sand mines.  Read more…

part 4
States play catch-up with sand-mining regulations

The sand industry has grown faster than regulators can keep up in Wisconsin, which has more sand mines than any other state. Fines for pollution are modest, many mines have not received full inspections and the state has failed to update its permit for sand mines, even though the old terms expired last year. Read more…

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