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Government and industry experts estimate the US production of frac sand at 25 million to 30 million metric tons a year and growing – most of it now coming from the upper Midwest.
The mining boom looks different from state to state. Minnesota and Illinois each have a handful of large frac sand mines, with new ones on the way. Iowa has ample sandstone, but so far only one operating mine. Wisconsin, however, with its easy access to railroads and relatively permissive regulations, has become a hive of sand mining. In 2010, the state had 10 mines and processing facilities. Today it has 132, with nearly 100 more that are in the planning stages or have been approved.
"There are so many, it's hard to keep track of them," says Thomas Dolley, a sand expert with the US Geological Survey outside Washington.
The mining boom has aroused opposition, spawning numerous small activist groups with names like Preserve Trempealeau County and Save the Bluffs. Some residents of sand-rich areas in Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota – about 225 of whom met at a "Citizens' Frac Sand Summit" in Winona, Minn., in January – are alarmed by what they see in Wisconsin. "We don't want to be like them," says Amy Nelson, an anti-mining activist from Goodhue County, Minn. "We don't want to be overrun by sand mines."