Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty campaigning for President in Iowa last year. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons)

In a sign of the growing significance of the frac sand industry in the Upper Midwest, a Pennsylvania sand mining company announced Tuesday that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has joined its board of directors.

Smart Sand, Inc. is in the process of building an 1,100-acre frac sand facility in Oakdale, Wisconsin, which is about 50 miles east of LaCrosse. The facility is expected to produce a million tons of sand per year, with operations beginning later this month, according to a company news release.

While a number of major frac sand mining operations are underway in Wisconsin, several Minnesota counties have considered or impose bans on mining operations, and port cities along the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River, including Winona and Red Wing, have faced active community opposition to sand processing and shipping operations.

“Shale oil and gas is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the U.S. With proper stewardship, it will help solve our nation’s energy crisis and dramatically boost our economy,” Pawlenty said in the news release.

Pawlenty serves on the boards of five other companies, all of them in the tech sector, reports Ed Stych of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.

Andrew Speaker, CEO of Smart Sand, said in the news release, “We look forward to drawing on [Pawlenty’s] expertise as CEO of the great state of Minnesota as we continue to build our company.”

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.