Adrian Hedden – Carlsbad Current-Argus – A multi-mile conveyor belt system could bring frac sand from West Texas into southeast New Mexico, where a boom in oil and gas production was led by the practice known as fracking.
Fracking is used to break up underground shale rock by pumping water and sand underground so that oil and gas can be extracted.
Each shale well uses millions of pounds of frac sand or other proponents to achieve the fracking process.
Atlas Sand Company is hoping to capitalize on this need in New Mexico by building an about 16.5 mile covered overland conveyor belt system to carry the sand from an offloading facility in Loving County, Texas to a proposed 140-acre loadout facility in Lea County.
The project was about 29 miles southeast of Loving.
The company is seeking a permanent, 70-foot-wide right of way (ROW) across federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and a public scoping period was opened until Feb. 4, where the BLM will accept public comments on the project.
The project was intended to reduce truck traffic in the area, the main method of transporting sand to well sites.
The conveyor system could reduce the number of miles driven by sand-hauling trucks by about 47 percent, or 25 million miles, read a BLM news release.
“The project objective is to carry sand into New Mexico for use in hydraulic fracturing operations, by means other than heavy vehicle trucking, the current method to transport sand in New Mexico,” the release read.
Existing roads will be used when possible throughout the project, read the release, with temporary work spaces built outside the ROW.
The BLM had yet to determine the locations of the work spaces.
Comments can be submitted online via the BLM’s website, or by mail to Tessa Cisneros at the Carlsbad Field Office, 620 E. Greene St., Carlsbad, New Mexico.
In person submissions can also be made at the office from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Atlas’ sand facility in Kermit, Texas went into full capacity in 2018, producing about 11,000 tons per day, and about 4 million tons annually.
The facility served up to 500 trucks per day.
“There is so much positive going on out in West Texas right now, and we’re very happy to be doing our part to add to the fantastic economic growth taking place in the Permian Basin,” said Atlas Chairman Ben Brigham.
Another facility in Monahans, Texas was also opened by Atlas in October 2018, also anticipated to produce 4 million tons per year of frac sand when at full capacity.
“Much like what we saw at Atlas Kermit, we expect this facility to ramp to full production capacity very quickly, due to the efficiencies and redundancies that we designed into the plant,” said Atlas Chief Operations Officer Hunter Wallace.
Mining for frac sand became controversial in southeast New Mexico and West Texas, as environmentalists worried the practice could destroy the habitat of the dunes sagebrush lizard, and petitioned the federal government for increasing protections.
The dunes sagebrush lizard, also known as the sand dune lizard is a “rare species” only found in about 655 square miles of habitat in Mescalero Sands of southeast New Mexico, near Chaves County.
It has also been observed living in areas of West Texas near the state line.
In October 2019, an advocacy group sued the federal government, demanding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service respond to requests to list the lizard as endangered of threatened.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife contended the FWS failed to respond within the required 90 days after the groups requested a listing in May 2018.
The animal was listed as endangered by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and became a candidate for a federal listing under the Endangered Species Act in 2001.
Plaintiffs contended oil and gas production and hydraulic fracturing had destroyed 40 percent of the lizard’s habitat due to sand mining.
They also blamed the practice for destroying the lizard’s habitats in Texas, causing the loss of about 1,000 acres of habitat per year as it was estimated a total of 20,000 acres would be ultimately be lost.
“We will not allow the dunes sagebrush lizard to be further victimized by political delay,” said Jason Rylander, senior counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s past time for the Trump administration to listen to the science and take the necessary steps to protect this rare species.”