While interviewing Jim Laskin about frac sand mining in Glenwood City, he was insistent that we travel 40 miles east to witness a full-fledged silica frac sand mining district enveloping New Auburn, WI. With 7 mines within a 5 mile radius, we decided to take Jim’s advice. So, we loaded up our camera gear and hit the road. The sand rush is transforming Wisconsin in many ways. With 87 operational mines and dozens more proposed, we wanted to experience what it felt like to live in one of those areas.
It was a mostly clear, warm September day. Most of the drive was what one would expect in rural Wisconsin in early fall: corn fields tall and near harvest, green rolling hills, landscape littered with farm houses and silos, occasional deer grazing near the wooded edges, and birds of all kinds abundant.
Then we came around a rolling curve and the landscape abruptly changed. This was the first frac sand hill we discovered, so we stopped our car to film it. There was what can best be described as an invisible film in the air. I could feel it on my lips almost immediately. The substance was tasteless, yet I compulsively licked it off and spit it in the ditch every few minutes. Within 20 minutes any bare skin on my body felt dirty, yet I still couldn’t see anything.
So I decided to run my hand across the hood of the car. There it was. This is the amount of dust collected on the hood of our car parked for 25 minutes, 1/4 mile away, from a silica frac sand mine near New Auburn, WI.
Glenwood City, WI small business owner, Jim Laskin, owns The Café on the main street in town. He serves a homemade meal with organic coffee along with information and updates to people about the newest developments with mining in their community. The oil and gas hydrofracking industry has discovered that Wisconsin has the most premium silica sand in the nation. Strong and spherical, this desirable dusty sand is mined and shipped out of our state by the millions of tons, where it is utilized to prop open the earth for gas and oil extraction elsewhere.
Within just a few years, our state experienced an increase from 3 silica sand mines to 80, with 40 more proposed. What troubles many citizens with sand fracking coming to their communities is the passage of Wisconsin’s 2011 WI Act 144. This law limits the authority of local government to enact a moratorium in order to slow the process down so that citizens may study the effects on the people and the land. This is significant to Laskin, who tells us that he may eventually be boxed in by mines on 3 sides of his rural farm. In addition, one of these mining companies has taken the bold step of proposing a 480 acre open-pit mine in a residential area, next to the public school, in Glenwood City.
Laskin gives us an inside look into a community overwhelmingly opposed to silica frac sand mining within their city limits. He admits that he wasn’t always concerned about mining. But now he says, “I didn’t really have a choice.”