Off The Editor’s Desk – 3-8-2017

Anything new on the sand mine?

It has been well more than a year since Vista Sands has been in Glenwood City with information about what they are going to do with their proposed sand mine just south of Glenwood City.

The last time company officials appeared before the City Council, they suggested that crude oil prices would have to be at or above $65.00 a barrel and that $85.00 would be much better, before they would start mining here. Glenwood City Mayor John Larson indicated last week that the city has heard nothing from Vista recently.

I found a story in last week’s Barron County News Shield out of Barron that stated: “Fortunes turning for Superior Silica.” They are the big firm in Barron County with several mines and processing plants in Barron County.

“With the return of profitable oil prices, frac sand work was returning to Barron County,” according to the front-page story.

“That’s according to Rick Shearer, chief executive office of Superior Silica Sands (SSS), in a presentation to the Barron County Board of Supervisors on February 20th. He said that new markets, new products and a more resilient industry forecast good things for the company and the county.

“We have just come through a very historical downtown in the oil and gas industry,” Shearer said of the two-year slump that also impacted Barron County frac sand mines.

“During its peak in 2014, the frac sand industry produced 55 million tons,” Shearer said, selling for $58 to $60 per ton. SSS employed around 250 people. In the lowest point of the slump, in 2016, the industry only produced 33 million tons and sold at cost for only $18 to $20 per ton. SSS sold around two million tons last year. Layoffs had been made and plants, including SSS’ New Auburn and Arland plants were moth balled. Only the Clinton plant operated during those years.

With the upturn, and SSS’ production expected to exceed five million tons, jobs that were previously laid off are now being refilled. “We’re hiring those people back,” Shearer told the board. He indicated that they are looking to hire 80 people.

He also told the board that they have new markets including shipping sand to South America countries, with unit trains (80 to 100 rail cars) of sand being shipped out of the port in Houston, Texas.

Because of its quality, “Sand from this country is going to Argentina, Peru, Columbia, Chile,” Shearer said.

“Two processed sand products were being introduced by SSS, called SandGuard and SandMaXx. SandGuard had a glycol coating, reducing the dust at oil well sites, per new Occupational Safety and Health regulations. SandMaXx was a polymer-coated sand that suspended in the hydraulic fracking solution. It increased a well’s oil and gas production 30-40 percent,” Shearer said.

“One thing we want to do, as soon as the market accepts this product, is put a 1.5 million-ton-a-year plant in Barron County,” he told the county board.

A county board member from Turtle Lake, Bill Schradle questioned about the cost of transporting the sand and was told it is about $40 to $45 a ton.

Supervisor Ken Jost of Chetek commented that the county was fortunate to have the sand industry for economic growth. “The relationship was mutually beneficial,” he said.

Thanks for reading!       ~Carlton