By Burton Speakman
Sixteen months of work will come to fruition in the next seven to 10 days as the first load of frac sand arrives at a storage facility on Esterly Drive in Columbiana.
The current estimate is that the facility will be able to receive about 80 train cars filled with the sand, said Jerry Stoneburner, owner of Buckeye Transfer Realty, which operates the site. Frac sand is used to hold open the crevices created during the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. Fracking is a process in which sand, water and chemicals are pumped into shale at high pressure to release natural gas and oil trapped within the rock thousands of feet underground.
The group is looking to bring about 20,000 tons of sand that will be used primarily within the Utica Shale, Stoneburner said. The sand that comes to Columbiana will be able to serve 80 percent to 95 percent of the Utica shale activity within a 75-mile radius of the site.
“We put in $300,000 and about a mile of rail spur and gearing up to probably by the end of the month to bring the frac sand in,” Stoneburner said. “Trains are coming from Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois by rail, and it will come into our plants using the Norfolk Southern [rail line].”
The first load of sand is coming from Illinois, he said.
The site currently has room for about 6,000 to 10,000 tons of sand in bulk storage. There are plans to add a silo, which could hold an additional 25,000 tons, Stoneburner said.
“We’ve got silos still on the property that could be converted to storage as well. We’d just have to clean them out real good,” he said. “That would add another 5,500 tons of sand storage.”
There is also the possibility of adding another bulk-storage facility in 2014 if the demand is there, Stoneburner said.
Stoneburner bought the site, which initially had built brick for the steel industry, out of bankruptcy in 2003. The site was purchased because of its rail access to support Stoneburner’s activity in shipping construction waste to the landfill 10 miles away, he said.
“I had never bought anything at auction in my life,” Stoneburner said. “Once I bought it, I had to figure out what to do with it. We got 300,000 square feet of warehouse space along with two office buildings.”
It took a lot of persistence to get the oil and gas industry interested in using the Columbiana site for frac sand, Stoneburner said.
“It takes a long time to figure out the right people to talk to,” he said. “Then, once you get to the right person, you have to pass a safety test.”
The industry presents some challenges for businesses with the paperwork they require, Stoneburner said.
“Most of my contracts for the trucking business are about two pages. The contracts for oil and gas companies are 30 pages or more,” he said.
Once the first load of frac sand arrives in Columbiana, Stoneburner said he is going to have to learn new paperwork to go along with industry requirements for sand shipments and storage.
This type of facility certainly will have an economic benefit for Columbiana County, said George Zeller, a Cleveland-based economist and Columbiana County native.
“It’s hard to quantify at this point what the impact will be,” he said. “It depends on how drilling takes off.”
There will be a need for more truckers, workers to load and unload the sand and office workers to handle the paperwork, Zeller said.
The estimate is that once Stoneburner’s operation gets running, it could mean up to 100 jobs for Columbiana, said April Brinker, executive director for the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Mr. Stoneburner is a local businessman, and he’s interested in adding local jobs,” she said.
The company has been successful by anticipating what shale companies are going to need and developing that capability before they ask for it, Brinker said.