American Silica LLC, a sand manufacturer in Black Rock (Lawrence Co.), shipped its first 80 train car loads of sand Wednesday afternoon (Jan. 4), President Tommy Bronson told Talk Business & Politics. The $48 million plant, located on more than 250 acres, will be fully operational in about a month, he said.
“We’re still working out some problems … a plant with this much new technology is going to have some bugs,” Bronson said.
The plant will produce 1.5 million tons of sand per year. It is expected to employ about 60 workers in Northeast Arkansas, including truck drivers that will deliver the sand to the plant.
American Silica, based in Brooksville, Fla., produces sand used in hydraulic fracturing. The fracturing is used to harvest natural gas from deep within the earth. Sand, water, and other chemicals are pumped into a natural gas mine, and pressure forces fractures in the bedrock, releasing the natural gas. The company also owns a quarry east of Cave City, Ark.
Most of their sand will come from that quarry, but the company could extract sand from quarries in Independence, Izard, Sharp, and Lawrence counties. The plant produces white silica that is more than 99% pure, Bronson said. Glass companies have also expressed an interest in their sand.
The company, backed by private investors, has been interested in a plant in this part of the state for almost five years. Several locations near Portia were considered, but a deal for land there was never finalized.
St. Peter sandstone, the preferred sand used in hydraulic fracturing, is found in abundance in the upper Midwest, especially in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Significant deposits of this type of sand are believed to exist in Northeast Arkansas.
The hydraulic fracking sand will be sent to Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and northern Louisiana to be used to harvest natural gas. Quarries in Minnesota are the company’s primary competitors, and with their location in NEA, American Silica is strategically placed to compete, Bronson said.
Hydraulic fracturing has been a controversial process in some parts of the country, including central Arkansas where it has been linked to numerous small earthquakes and in some places it has impacted water tables, according to The Associated Press.
Bronson said he isn’t worried about the controversies surrounding the process. The U.S. is the most energy independent it has been in more than 25 years, and a lot of it has to do with domestic petroleum production increases which includes hydraulic fracturing.
A rock crusher could be built on the property, and the company has the expertise to install and use one, Bronson said. If demand in the asphalt/crushed rock market grows, the company might consider a rock crusher. But, sand will be the company’s top priority into the near future.
“In the immediate future we feel like the sand business is really going to grow,” Bronson said. “That’s where our focus has to be.”