If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out. As
Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and misery) in sand—and if
you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep.
March in Wisconsin used to mean snow on the ground, temperatures so
cold that farmers worried about their cows freezing to death. But as I
traveled around rural townships and villages in early March to interview
people about frac-sand mining, a little-known cousin of hydraulic
fracturing or “fracking,” daytime temperatures soared to nearly eighty
degrees—bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message.
In this troubling spring, Wisconsin’s prairies and farmland fanned
out to undulating hills that cradled the land and its people. Within
their embrace, the rackety calls of geese echoed from ice-free ponds,
bald eagles wheeled in the sky and deer leaped in the brush. And for the
first time in my life, I heard the thrilling warble of sandhill cranes.
Yet this peaceful rural landscape is swiftly becoming part of a vast assembly line in the corporate race for the last fossil fuels on the planet. The target: the sand in the land of the cranes.