Monday, July 31, 2017

Sand mining growth in Texas

A recent Houston Chronicle report explains that booming Permian Basin oil production in Texas is fueling demand for frac sand. It claims that the "largest wells now consume up to 25,000 tons" of sand, or 50 million pounds each, up from 1,500 tons several years ago. More sand has typically meant more productivity when a well is fracked.

Availability of sand, however, is temporarily limited. Due to high transportation costs, companies such as Fairmount Santrol, Hi-Crush, Smart Sand, Preferred Sand, U.S. Silica, and Emerge Energy -- all active in recent years in western Wisconsin -- are opening new mines or expanding existing operations in Texas.

Although "northern white sand" from Wisconsin is considered to be higher quality, "Texas brown sand" is "cheaper and closer."

Energy companies such as Halliburton also claim they are "developing injection chemicals that can help increase the oil flow from wells as opposed to simply blasting more sand."

The report quotes industry analysts, however, who believe that fracking will still require increasing amounts of sand.

See Jordan Blum, "Has fracking reached peak sand?," Houston Chronicle, July 25, 2017.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Glenn Stoddard, 1958-2017

I was very saddened to learn that Glenn Stoddard passed away last month after a recurrence of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Stoddard was an environmental and civil rights lawyer who represented many citizens and grassroots groups fighting against the expansion of frac sand mining in their communities.

Prior to opening Stoddard Law Office in 2005 in Eau Claire, Stoddard practiced law in Madison with Ed Garvey, who was known, among other things, as the founder of Fighting Bob Fest, an annual event celebrating Wisconsin's progressive political traditions. For many years, Garvey and Stoddard, S.C. was one of the most influential civil rights and environmental law firms in Wisconsin.

As frac sand mining emerged and matured as an issue, Stoddard spoke frequently at public forums and helped educate concerned citizens and local officials about the tools available to regulate or deter frac sand mining. At at time when many area law firms cultivated ties to the ballooning frac sand industry, Stoddard was viewed as an independent, trustworthy community advocate and defender of the environment.

In relation to frac sand mining, Stoddard was probably best known for developing a nonmetallic mining licensing ordinance for Cooks Valley in 2008, an unzoned township in Chippewa County. After drafting what was then an innovative ordinance, he assisted in defending the town when it was sued by mining interests. In the 2012 landmark decision of Zwiefelhofer v. Town of Cooks Valley, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the right of towns to regulate frac sand mining through such licensing ordinances. The ruling was a significant juncture in what remains an ongoing battle over the rights of local communities when confronting harmful land-use practices introduced by powerful corporate interests.

In addition to his work on frac sand mining issues, Stoddard also formed part of the legal team opposing the Gogebic Taconite Mine in the Penokees and he was involved in many other prominent environmental cases. Stoddard's obituary, which he wrote in his final days, was published in the Ashland Daily Press and the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Coming soon: When the Hills Are Gone

I'm very excited to announce the forthcoming publication of my book on grassroots activism and frac sand mining in Wisconsin! Titled "When the Hills Are Gone: Frac Sand Mining and the Struggle for Community," it will be published by the University of Minnesota Press in November 2017. It is now listed on their webpage.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winona County, MN, frac sand ban

Even with the recent lull in the regional frac sand market, Winona County, in Minnesota, recently adopted an ordinance that bans further development of industrial sand mining operations.
Frac sand mining has been a contentious issue in Winona for several years and the ban represents an assertion of local control. Members of the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), a Minnesota-based non-profit, had pushed for the ban since June of 2015. According to a statement by the LSP:

"The County Board passed the ban by a 3-2 vote in the form of an amendment to Winona County’s existing zoning ordinance. It prohibits any new operations for the production of industrial minerals, including the silica sand used in hydraulic fracturing."

The ban comes amid signs that frac sand mining may begin to intensify once again following a two-year downturn.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Sand Mines Reopening

Here's another report from last week on the expected rebound of demand for frac sand. According to the article, "Wisconsin frac sand producers say they are poised for another sand boom after an agonizing two-year lull." Some industry folk anticipate returning to 2014 production levels next year.

However, not all observers are so optimistic.

"Oil industry analytical firm IHS is a little more guarded in its predictions for the frac sand market in 2017. Managing Director Samir Nangia expects demand to grow by 15 percent per year. The most recent IHS ProppantIQ report states there are around 20 idled sand mines in the U.S., most of them in Wisconsin, accounting for 26 million tons of idled frac sand production capacity."

See the full article: Rich Kremer, "Wisconsin Frac Sand Producers Bullish About Market Rebound," WPR, December 1, 2016.