Sand storage plant set for S.A.

The nation’s second-largest producer of sand is teaming with BNSF Railway Co. to build a sand storage plant in San Antonio that will serve clients in the Eagle Ford Shale, the companies’ officials said.

Maryland-based U.S. Silica Holdings Inc. and BNSF said they will build a plant that can store 15,000 tons of sand to be used by clients engaged in hydraulic fracturing in the shale. The storage plant will begin operating in early 2013, the companies said in a statement.

The number of jobs to be created by the plant and its cost weren’t disclosed.

While BNSF and U.S. Silica didn’t respond to queries as to the plant’s location in San Antonio, David Marquez, Bexar County executive director of economic development, said BNSF has said it would acquire parcels in the 500-acre Freeport Business Centre near Interstate 35 and Loop 410. The business park is served by BNSF.

If BNSF chooses that location, it would bring another major employer to Southwest Bexar County. Last week, the Bexar County Commissioners Court heard a plan by Maruchan Inc. to build a ramen noodle factory near that area.

“That part of Bexar has gone from a sleepy corner to the hottest property for industrial development that any of us have seen in a long time,” Marquez said. The area stands to have “multiple companies and multiple construction sites,” he said.

U.S. Silica said its San Antonio plant will receive three or four shipments a month of 10,000 tons of sand on 100-car trains. The sand will come from its mine in Ottawa, Ill.

Some of the Eagle Ford Shale’s most active areas are south of San Antonio.

“Working with U.S. Silica to extend BNSF’s service into the Eagle Ford Shale will create new opportunities for growth for the nation’s energy supply, for jobs and the economy,” John Lanigan, BNSF executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

BNSF is owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

As drilling has boomed in the Eagle Ford Shale, companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing have used tons of sand, which aids in getting the best production from wells.

In fracturing, a mixture of fluids and “proppants” such as sand are pumped at high pressure into a perforated well pipe to create small fractures in tight shale rock. The fractures allow oil and natural gas to escape and flow out of the well.

U.S. Silica said its “Ottawa white” sand is desired for fracking because it’s strong and has a uniform shape, said Anita Willis-Boyland, a spokeswoman for U.S. Silica at its headquarters in Frederick, Md.

Sand particles that are spherical, as opposed to dimpled, aid in oil and gas recovery because oil and gas molecules can more easily pass between the grains, she said.