Wednesday, November 21, 2012
CHIPPEWA COUNTY, Wis. — Where County Highway A crests a knoll, Ken Schmitt pulls up to the edge of a farm and idles the car. Above a cornfield yellowed and brittle from a killing frost is a 100-foot hill with a wide section cut away, revealing bands of stone, clay and sand neat as a layer cake.
In time, 800 acres of farmland will be mined to feed an energy boom sweeping the United States.
No one is drilling for oil or gas amid the gently rolling farmland and wooded ridges of western Wisconsin.
But the same battles over jobs, public health and the environment that have erupted in Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado as part of the latest energy wave now echo through the small towns of the upper Midwest.
Here the particular types of sand vital to the controversial production technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, lie just beneath the surface. Ground zero for industrial sand mining is western Wisconsin, in counties like Trempealeau, Buffalo and Chippewa.
At least 60 industrial sand mines are functioning or in the permit process in the area, up from five in 2010.