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This may explain why U.S. Silica, which owns 13 mines, including a frac sand mine in Sparta, Wis., recently purchased 477 acres in Izard County. The company has an active permit on file at ADEQ, but according to company spokesperson Michael Lawson, there are no specific plans to begin mining. "I would say that we are holding the property for future development," he wrote in an email.
In April 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy gave the green light to a Louisiana plant to transform natural gas to liquid, paving the way to pipe U.S. surplus to Europe and Asia. It's a process that's likely several years off, according to Holland. But Nelson thinks it's a crucial first step in stabilizing the industry long-term. "What we're seeing now is just a dead period, something that the business understands. They have peaks and valleys. And it looks to me like ... we won't see things even out until liquefied natural gas plants are functional," Nelson said.
In Arkansas, the purest sandstone lies in the White River watershed — a swath of Ozark foothills, tourist communities and stagnant rural towns. Calico Rock is among the second. It's growing, albeit more slowly than official figures suggest, since the last census included a prison annex. Historic Main Street includes an artist co-op, an antique shop and a dry goods store with an old-fashioned soda shop. According to Steve Vinson, who has lived in Calico Rock for seven years and run Calico Rock Realty for four, most of the growth is from an influx of retirees. "There's not a lot of property moving between folks already in the county ... [for younger people] we're not a very strong attractant. We don't have the industries that are creating jobs right now," he said.
Barbara Carlson, a retired software engineer from Chicago, has been instrumental in educating her Calico Rock community about frac sand mining. In January 2008, she and her neighbors began to hear industrial noise coming from Mill Creek, a tributary of the White River. "We asked the people living next to Mill Creek, and they said 'They're digging right into the creek.' And we knew that was going to be a problem because that's just not something you do. It's very sandy, and all that comes down the creek," she said.
As it turned out, a group called B&H Resources was clearing land to build a frac sand mine. Carlson alerted the advocacy group Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers, and the Friends alerted ADEQ.
B&H didn't have a permit for the thousands of feet of creek bank it cleared, which caused sediment to wash into Mill Creek and threaten the bass population. ADEQ issued a cease and desist order and asked B&H to re-vegetate the bank — a process that B&H had not begun in October 2009, when James Hardy, the "H" in B&H, appeared at a town meeting that Carlson helped organize at the Calico Rock Music Hall. The meeting was to discuss mining permit applications filed by Hardy's new company, Evergreen Processing.
About 130 people turned out, and a number of them mentioned the unfinished re-vegetation. The general sentiment was summed up by one commenter, who said, "I think it's reasonable to require this company to rehabilitate the Mill Creek site before issuing another permit." An attending Evergreen representative mentioned a re-vegetation plan that was awaiting ADEQ approval.
According to ADEQ, B&H did eventually re-vegetate the creek bank, but not long after, an arsonist torched the new trees. Carlson is surprised that ADEQ considers the Mill Creek matter resolved. "It's heartbreaking, because when this area floods, the cleared part continues to erode and wash downstream ... you get used to it after awhile, but it's not like it was," she said.
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