Commissioners hear both sides of sand mining
Representatives of one of the five companies already committed to mining frac sand in and around the community of Fay told Custer County commissioners Monday that their firm plans to be in the area where Dewey, Blaine and Custer counties come together, for 35 years, so they’ll be good stewards of the land and its resources, including underground water.
Several Fay residents also showed up at Monday’s meeting, and they didn’t sound convinced.
One of them, Arianna Parkinson, said a U.S. Geological Survey study shows that if the Oklahoma Water Resources Board doesn’t cut the amount of water it’s allowing the mining companies to take by more than half, the Rush Springs Aquifer will be virtually gone in 20 years. The Rush Springs Aquifer is Weatherford’s primary source of water and serves many other communities including Anadarko and Marlow, Ms. Parkinson said after the meeting.
She said another of the five mining companies, Black Mountain Sand, will be taking as much water as the City of Weatherford from the Rush Springs Aquifer.
The companies will be mining sand used in the fracturing of oil and gas wells.
Mike Galloway, Custer County emergency management director, said frac sand is used after a well is drilled and fractured to enhance the amount of minerals that can be produced from it. He said the sand is placed in the fracture to keep it open so oil and gas flowing through it can be recovered.
The company that appeared at Monday’s meeting was Vista Proppants and Logistics, LLC. It was represented by four spokesmen, including Chief Executive Officer Gary Humphreys and Director of Technical Services Joe Drew.
Humphreys said it started 15 years ago as a trucking business and is now into mining sand. Its sand operation here will be in western Blaine County and southeastern Dewey County, but some of the roads its trucks use will be in northeastern Custer County, hence the company’s desire to talk with commissioners here.
The firm plans to mine 200 tons of sand an hour, or about 1 million tons per year, from the Fay area, it was indicated. Humphreys said his company has approximately 20 trucks of its own but it also will be using outside contractors. He said it plans to employ about 70 people in the area with hourly workers paid $17 to $30 an hour and salaried ones $65,000 to $80,000 annually, with benefits.
Humphreys said Vista’s mining operation would be virtually non-stop, running 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
“We will be providing temporary housing for our employees,” he said.
Commissioner Kurt Hamburger of Weatherford, who had just been elected chairman of Custer County commissioners for the next year, said he and his fellow commissioners – Wade Anders and Lyle Miller of Clinton – wanted to be open to economic development and “anything that adds jobs for local people is key.” However, he said they also have to be conscious of the environment and county roads.
“What’s your projected annual water usage?” he asked the company representatives.
Drew answered for Vista, saying it would be 500 to 800 gallons per minute. But he said solids would be separated from the water so it could be recycled.
He said the company also operates two well fields in far West Texas, in the desert near Monahans, which are five times the size of this one.
“We have teams of hydrogeologists so we’ll know what it looks like in 20 years,” said Drew. “We’re here for the long haul.”
He also said much of the sand will be mined from an old terrace that used to be part of the South Canadian River surface. Sand will be pulled off the top and other sand right below that is what the company will want to mine, he indicated. Drew called that sand “pretty pristine” and said his firm will be mining 12 to 25 acres the first year. He indicated it has rights to two sections of land, or about 1,500 acres.
There’ll be two mining pits to start, 50 feet deep, he said. “We’re well above groundwater,” he added, stating that after the company is through with an area it will be returned to nature, mentioning for instance cattails and duck habitat.
Drew said all wells will be engineered by hydrogeologists. “We’ll take what we need at levels that are sustainable,” he said, mentioning 500 to 600 gallons of water per minute.
“We’ll spread it out over the two sections so it doesn’t draw down one area faster than the other. If we get a lot of rain, we’ll take that into account too.”
The visitors made a hit with the commissioners when Hamburger asked whether they would be helping with county roads in the area.
Humphreys said that in the past his company put $7 million into county roads in West Texas and said between Blaine and Dewey counties it would be spending a lot of money with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. He indicated the bulk of the traffic would be on State Highway 33.
That really made Commissioner Anders perk up. He said county roads are not expected to handle that kind of traffic.
Humphreys assured him the sand trucks will not be on county roads that much, that they’ll feed onto S.H. 33 after only a short distance.
The Fay people – almost all of them women – were concerned about the water usage and its impact on the Rush Springs Aquifer. One said the company would be using a little over a billion gallons of water a year and wanted to know if the company would have a metering system on its pumps.
“Each well will have a pump and a brain,” answered Drew. “We’re also concerned about the drawdown of water.” He then explained that the company would be cycling, using different wells so one doesn’t get depleted too quickly.
“Our goal is to be here for 30 years,” he said. “We can’t do that if we don’t have water.” In the West Texas desert around Monahans, he said his company operates a 27-well field.
“We also capture storm water,” he said. “We’ll utilize it in lieu of (ground) water when we can.”
Commissioner Miller thanked the company visitors for the economic development they’re bringing to the area and said he appreciated them coming to the meeting on their own volition to inform the commissioners of their plans.
“We want to be economic development friendly,” added Commisioner Hamburger. “We want ya’ll to be a successful part of Custer County.”
One of the Fay visitors had a different take.
“The growth of Weatherford is killing Fay,” she said. “Other communities are going to grow, but you’re killing us. It’s all about the almighty dollar, but you’re killing our community.”
Another woman said one of the sand mines “will be right on top of Fay.”
After the meeting, Amie Reed of Fay told the Clinton Daily News that besides Vista, whose mine would be within one mile of Fay, other companies that have filed for sand mining permits in the area are Alpine Sand, which she said will have its operation within a mile of the town to the east; Omega Sands, west of town; and Black Mountain, on State Highway 58 across the line in Blaine County. She said Preferred Sand is already built and operational on U.S. Highway 270.
“That’s the five right now,” said Ms. Reed.