The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 6, 2013

A different grain

Sand has become new wheat for Enid, for WB Johnston Grain storage facility

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Drought conditions not seen since the days of the Dust Bowl might have driven some agribusiness into dry dirt, but others are making a comeback with sand.

Brent Kisling, executive director of Enid Regional Development Alliance, said Enid is seeing the amount of fracking sand brought into the area and taken out into the oil fields growing steadily.

He expects more than 500,000 tons of the fracking sand to be offloaded in Enid this year.

“Last year, we had 175,000 tons offloaded,” Kisling said. “I think it’s going to continue to grow. Some of the biggest players in frack sand have contracts in Enid.”

He said there are a lot of businesses from the oil industry that are readily seen in the community, but fracking sand is not as visible to the public.

“The frack sand industry is one that sits a bit more behind the scenes,” Kisling said. “It’s a huge contributing factor to what’s going on in Enid right now.”

The bulk of the fracking sand coming into Enid from areas along the Mississippi River. The round sand makes it a perfect medium for fracking because of its size and uniformity.

The sand is brought into Enid by rail and sent by trucks into the nearby oil fields.

“We have a great rail infrastructure in Enid because Enid has more dry-grain storage capacity than any other city in America,” Kisling said. “The same equipment used to offload grain can be used to offload frack sand. We already have the infrastructure in place to support it.”

WB Johnston Grain has transitioned from grain to fracking sand after a decline in wheat production because of the resources the company already had in place.

“Really, because of how devastating the impact of the drought has been on our industry, we started searching for other alternative uses for our elevator infrastructure and, more importantly, the real estate structure and our real estate along the rail,” Joey Meibergen executive vice president of WB Johnston Grain, said. “Our elevators, their proximity to the rail and being able to be serviced by the railroad was the No. 1 reason.”

He said other companies have transitioned from grain storage to fracking sand, and WB Johnston in Shattuck is doing it as well.

Oklahoma’s largest privately owned grain elevator business, Johnston Grain operates 20 elevators in Oklahoma and Texas. It also operates five ports in Louisiana, West Virginia and Oklahoma.

Meibergen said drought and farming policies saw declines in grain storage, and the company was looking at other industrial bulk commodities to offset loss of grain.

“Oklahoma production in acres planted continues to go down,” he said. “We’re trying to find out what the new norm is.”

Most of the sand being brought into Johnston is from Wisconsin and Minnesota.

“What makes frack sand unique is its shape, purity and ability to withstand pressure,” Meibergen said. The sand is brought to Enid via a special hoppered rail car, half the size of a grain car because the sand weighs twice as much as the grain, he said.

“The entire grain industry is a volume industry. It has certainly helped make up for where agriculture has lacked.”

Both sand and grain cannot be handled at the same time. If grain production were to increase, Johnston could switch back, Meibergen said.

“If sand ever went away we could go back to grain,” he said. “We’ve taken advantage when those opportunities provided themselves in the past.”