While the nation's attention may be riveted on the Sandy Hook school shootings, the frac sand industry hasn't turned away from the quest to haul silica sand away from the Upper Midwest, despite the soft-peddling of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association's favorite news intern.
On one hand, we read the report from staff writer Tesla Rodriquez in the Winona Daily News, City of Wabasha to vote on frac sand facility:
A proposed frac sand loading and storage facility in Wabasha could open as early as next week if the city approves.
The Wabasha City Council will decide at a special meeting Monday whether an environmental review should be done for Superior Sand System’s facility.
The council is considering the review because of a recent petition with 156 signatures submitted to the state’s Environmental Quality Board. Petitioners want the review in order to identify the facility’s potential impacts on traffic, health and safety issues, and other concerns.
If the council chooses not to order the review, the city’s planning commission on Tuesday will consider approving the facility’s conditional-use permit.
The planning commission has until Feb. 8 to vote on the permit but is expected to move more quickly, in part because company officials have expressed a desire to open the facility this month.
“They indicated they will start to lose quite a bit of money if they don’t start hauling by Dec. 20,” Wabasha City Planner Molly Patterson-Lundgren said.
The company could lose up to $40 million in secured contracts if it can’t open before that date, said Paul Van Eijl, a company representative and Buffalo County’s former zoning administrator, in a letter to the commission.
The commission initially held off on voting until a traffic impact study could be done to determine the effects of 400 daily truck trips, but now that the process has accelerated, the study would be done after the permit is approved. . . .
Read the rest at the Winona Daily News.
Not surprisingly, that sense of urgency on the part of Superior Sand System isn't reflected in the latest industrial sand spin from science writer and Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism intern Kate Prengaman in As supply meets demand, Wisconsin’s frac sand rush slows:
And as more of the new sand mines in Wisconsin begin production this year, the supply is catching up with the demand.
Rich Budinger, the regional manager for the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Company (WISC), a subsidiary of Fairmount Minerals, which has three operating sand facilities and one more in development in Wisconsin, said these price fluctuations are part of natural market cycles. Lower prices will benefit experienced sand mine operators like WISC, said Budinger, who also is president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association.
“If prices continue to drop off, a competitive market will be established,” Budinger said. “Experienced companies have seen that before, and we’re prepared for it.”
WISC doesn’t just produce frac sand. It also sells sand for glass, construction and recreational uses. This diversification is key to weathering the ups and downs of the market, Budinger said.. . .
In one news report, we see the need to shove through approval of a 400-daily-truckload facility without environmental review; in the other, a lulling headline that tells us that the rush is over--and we can trust the mature, large operators (after all, they have a trade association which promises that it will totally hold members to high standards of environmental protection, they have assured us.)
Prengaman's reportage was not always so industry-friendly, but then, last summer there was no WISA, though both her investigations and the trade group ripened quickly, like the finest Wisconsin cheese product. A coincidence, to be sure.
Reading Prengaman's recent reports and watching her presentation to a university forum in which she declares the process to be 100 percent totally regulated, speaking as a perfect messenger for industry talking, Bluestem congratulates her on her twitterific marketing of the petroleum chemical industry and wish her well upon her coming graduation. As she notes while speaking to the forum, good jobs are desperately needed in the area.
Not every young journalist is able to muster this sort of courage and sacrifice, but we credit Prengaman for taking away the right message from the Onion's satiric piece, Fracking Industry Now Largest Employer Of Recent PR Graduates:
A new labor market study published Wednesday has found that oil companies with hydraulic fracturing interests have outpaced the tobacco industry, Wall Street, and the gun lobby to become the largest employer of recent college graduates with public relations degrees. "These days, media-savvy professionals who know how to publicize questionable scientific data in order to downplay the environmental dangers of forcing toxic fluids into the ground can pretty much write their own ticket," said Bart Hobijn of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, adding that this year at least 2,500 graduating seniors will be put to work obfuscating the levels of carcinogens in groundwater. "And in the long term, the job demand will only increase. Fracking has become a high-growth sector in which there is an extraordinary amount of spinning to be done." When asked how he enjoyed his new position with a Pittsburgh-based fracking operator, recently hired PR manager Matt Coleman said he believed the practice is a "safe, clean way to increase our natural gas reserves and reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil."
Surely, that message translates just as well to the frac sand industry as well, as Prengaman's reporting clearly illustrates. Nothing to worry about.
Update: The reader comments on Frac sand boom creates thousands of jobs are telling, and one response draws attention to Prengaman's sourcing (link added):
It is troubling that the author cites the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation as if this were a credible source. A caveat should include the fact that the WEDC is a Walker created corporate entity. Cronyism is implicit in this creation. As has been noted in the past, there is often a financial insentive to pad the numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is certainly a much more credible source but receives less attention as a credible source. I think the thing that those of use who live with this invasion and devastation would note – is that it seems to be a very common industry practice to “pad the numbers. In general, this industry scrupulously avoids long term numbers. Jobs = Sand is the industry advertizing slogan. It is the same slogan that is used with Mountain Top removal, Fracking and other destructive dirty energy efforts. It is Wisconsin’s best interest, nor even the U.S. to ignore the long term consequences.
Is this an accurate assessment of Prengaman's source? The Wisconsin State Journal reports that WEDC hires outside help after losing track of millions of dollars in loans and other such troubles.
Fascinating stuff: the kid has a bright, bright future.
Photo: Frac sand sediment spills into the St.Croix River last spring. Everything is a-okay. Image from the Wisconsin DNR, via the Environmental Review.
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