Shale Support is growing operations

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Within Pearl River County and Hancock County is a company that mines and processes a number of aggregates for a number of uses.

One aggregates mined by Shale Support is sand, which is used as a proppant in the fracking industry, said Shale Support President Jeff Bartlam. Proppants are materials used to maintain the openings in oil and gas deposits once drilling and fracking efforts have found them.

The business opened its doors in the Picayune area in 2012. A drying plant is located on a 70 acre site within Picayune’s Industrial Park, while mining operations take place on a 1,500 acre site in the Buffer Zone of Stennis Space Center. Cattle are also raised on the site within the Buffer Zone.

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Three products are produced through the mining efforts; stone used for asphalt and concrete, pea gravel and sand.

Chief Executive Officer Kevin Bowen said this area is a prime location for mining those materials due to the Pearl River. Over the course of millions of years, the riverbed has shifted across the area, leaving plenty of locations where the material can be collected, Bowen said. The sand in this area is good for use as a proppant due to its nearly round shape. That aspect of the material means it is especially useful in fracking techniques used in America to extract oil and gas from the ground, as determined by the American Petroleum Institute. Bowen said the API utilizes a 15 point test to determine if the sand is suitable as a proppant. While regular sand would sell for $3.50 a ton, the sand being mined and sorted at Shale Support can be sold for as much as $120 a ton.

All of the material mined by the company is sifted and sorted through an extensive process. Bartlam said the company sells three sizes of the sand to meet customer demand, which is used by companies in Texas, Ohio and West Virginia.  In order to get the right material, a variety of personnel is required. In addition to truck drivers and other skilled laborers, the business employs laboratory personnel who help ensure the material meets the proper standards. Sophisticated machinery helps the laboratory personnel do their jobs, while operation of the drying plant is overseen by a highly trained employee using a computer.

In all, the business currently employs 105 people directly, amounting to $4.1 million in annual payroll, and sends $25 million in products and services from vendors and the 100 indirect employees. Efforts to expand the business will mean that an additional 85 direct and 50 indirect positions will be created. Bartlam said he expects the work, funded by an additional investment of $88 million to expand the company’s efforts, to be complete by year’s end.

Getting the business started required an initial investment of $90 million, Bartlam said.

In order to process the sand, it has to be dried after it’s collected. Bartlam said when the sand comes to the drying facility, it’s stored in a warehouse to let nature do some of the work, reducing the moisture content from 8 percent to about 5 percent. Then the sand is dried using natural gas before it is run through a series of sifting machines. Bartlam estimates the company purchases between $80,000 to $90,000 in natural gas from the city of Picayune monthly and $100,000 in electric from Coast Electric Power Company.

“The city does pretty well with us buying natural gas,” Bartlam said.

Currently, about a million tons of sand is produced annually. Bartlam estimates that when the expansion work is complete the facility will be able to produce 2.5 million tons a year.

Recently it was reported that the company owed money in back taxes to the city of Picayune and the school district for 2015 and 2016. The back taxes for 2016 were paid last week, and Bartlam and Bowen say the back taxes for 2015 will be paid soon. The reason taxes were not paid during those years was due to a downturn in the oil industry during 2014 and 2015 due to OPEC flooding the market with oil, which drove down the price of a barrel.

Bowen and Bartlam said the company prides itself on being part of the community. In addition the business offers up to three $2,500 scholarships to local students interested in STEM based careers.