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Superior Silica ready to join self-regulation group

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New Auburn sand mine

This undated photo shows Superior Silica Sands' operation near New Auburn.

One of the frac sand mining companies in Chippewa County intends to join a new industry group that is promoting self-regulation.

“We want to be a part of the organization and we will join,” said Rick Shearer, CEO and president of Superior Silica Sand, LLC, on Wednesday.

The company has offices in Fort Worth and Kosse, Texas, and has sand mines in Wisconsin and Texas.

Superior Silica Sands opened its mine in the town of Auburn in the summer of 2011. The company is proposing to add 334 acres to its existing 135-acre mine.

Four other sand mine companies announced Tuesday they have formed the  Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, or WISA. The group consists of: U.S. Silica, based in Frederick, Md.; Unimin Corp. of New Canaan, Conn.; Badger Mining of Berlin, Wis.; and Fairmount Minerals, with headquarters in Chardon, Ohio and a mine in Menomonie.

“We know all of those companies real well. We knew they were forming this organization months ago,” Shearer said.

He said WISA has a mission for businesses in sand mining to do things ethically correct and run their businesses right.

“That’s what we plan to do day in and day out,” Shearer said.

Superior Silica is already a member of the National Industrial Sand Association and the Industrial Minerals Association of North America, a group Shearer has served as chairman.

WISA would be providing the growing sand processing industry with another forum, he said.

“I think it serves a number of purposes as a go-to organization for people who want to understand the facts,” he said.

A longtime critic of sand mining, Dale McGraw of Lake Hallie, is skeptical self-regulation will work.

“Our standards in this state are not strong enough,” McGraw said, adding the state should set standards for crystalline silica in ambient (or outdoor) air.

McGraw said that, in his opinion, the state Department of Natural Resources and local governments should hold quarterly inspections of sand mines.

Officials of two other large mining firms in Chippewa County, EOG Resources and Preferred Sands of Minnesota, were not available for comment on the WISA group Wednesday.

Wisconsin sand prized

Processed frac sand is used in the extraction of natural gas and oil.

A mixture of water, chemicals and fine sand are used in the process known as fracking. The combination breaks rock, freeing  the natural gas or oil.

Wisconsin’s sand is prized because it has round, quartzite crystals, and plenty of it.

That’s why Shearer downplays an announcement this week that sand found in North Dakota, a state booming from oil production, may be good enough to be used as frac sand.

That may be true, Shearer said. But, he added, “There are a number of demonstrations of quality.”

For example, Wisconsin frac sand is coarse, which is needed for use by oil rigs.

“Wisconsin sand is as good as it gets for the frac industry,” he said.

Superior Silica Sands is constructing an 85-acre sand processing plant and railroad storage center near Poskin, in Barron County. That plant will be capable of producing up to 2.4 million tons a year of sand products. The plant is expected to start production in November and bring 100 new jobs.

The CN railroad is spending $35 million for the restoration of almost 40 miles of track between Barron and Ladysmith.

“Over the last three years, CN’s frac sand market has grown nearly 70 percent, reaching 35,000 carloads and $100 million in revenue in 2011, and we hope that our end-to-end service focus will help us grow this market to become a $300 million business for CN in the next 3-to-5-year horizon,” Jean-Jacques Ruest, CN executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, said in a press release.


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