Why the frack is Wisconsin in the energy game?

Wisconsin is suddenly a player in the national energy game. No, America’s dairyland doesn’t have newly discovered deposits of coal, oil, or natural gas. No, it’s not a leader in wind or solar power. Rather, Wisconsin is a valuable source of….sand. Yes, sand. The specific type of sand needed for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Wisconsin is in the middle of a sand rush because of increased use of the fracking method to extract natural gas. Given the state’s role as a sand supplier, there is a three-part public information series on hydraulic fracturing for Wisconsinites. The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is hosting the forums in Madison, they are live-streamed online and archived so that people all over the state and country can tune in.  The first session was this evening and it aimed to help Wisconsinites understand what fracking is and why it’s happening and also to address the role western Wisconsin is suddenly playing in this round of the national energy game.

In a sentence, hydraulic fracturing is a process that breaks up shale deep underground in order to access a trapped, dispersed deposits of natural gas. Sand is key to that process and I am going to discuss how Wisconsin came to claim ownership of most the sand frackers want to use, called frac sand. For more on fracking itself, see the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s short explainer piece, or, for way more than that, check out Propublica’s fracking series.

Wisconsin State Geologist James Robertson stood before a nearly full lecture hall this evening to answer four basic frac sand questions: Continue reading