American Silica on track for October opening of $48 million plant in Lawrence County

by George Jared ( 912 views 

A $48 million sand processing plant is about to start operation in central Lawrence County that could add up to 50 jobs in the region.

American Silica LLC, a Brookville, Fla., based company hopes to be in full operation at its Black Rock location by October, company vice-president Daniel “Dan” Cook told Talk Business and Politics.

“The weather really set us back, but now we’re getting back on track,” he said.

The plant was slated to begin operation in early August. Once production begins up to 50 workers, mostly truckers hauling sand to the plant will be employed.

“This will be a boon to the economy in this part of the state,” Lawrence County Judge Dale Freeman said.

American Silica 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.

Hydraulic fracturing has been a controversial process in some parts of the country, including central Arkansas where is has been linked to numerous small earthquakes and in some places it has impacted water tables, according to The Associated Press.

American Silica has built a massive plant on a 250-acre site outside of Black Rock. BNSF Railway has built about 1.5 miles of rail line to accommodate the sand production, according to company officials. Workers spent Monday finishing the lines. Sand processing systems are being tested, in anticipation of the grand opening, Cook said.

How much sand will be processed at the plant has not been released. Trucks will move sand to the plant and the processed sand will be shipped by railcars.

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. St. Peter sandstone mines have been dug in Izard and Sharp counties. Those mines will fuel the processing plant once it begins operation.

Company officials are hopeful more sand pockets will be discovered in Lawrence, Randolph, Independence, and other nearby counties. Energy prices, especially natural gas prices, have fluctuated this year, but company officials have previously stated they are not concerned.

Besides the actual jobs created, Freeman said the plant will help a lot of the businesses along the highways in the central part of his vast county. Truckers will need fuel, food, and other items as they haul the sand to the plant. As many as 30 to 40 trucks could be on the highway each day going to and from the plant. It will also spur county sales tax receipts, he said.

Land owners will benefit from contracts to extract the sand, the judge said. There will be problems, such as damage to the roads, but Freeman said he has already talked with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office about possible funding for road improvements, he said.

“We’ve been working on this for a really long time … thank goodness it’s finally a reality.”