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Kanab, Utah's Weekly Newspaper, Serving Kane County, Utah & the Arizona Strip

Southern Utah News Front Page: March 21, 2019

Southern Utah News Front Page Photo

Southern Red Sands project

An area just to the left of this road on top of the sands north of Kanab near Red Knoll will be the site of the Southern Red Sands plant, if all goes according to plans.


By Dixie Brunner

A new business endeavor on 640 acres of SITLA land north of Kanab near Red Knoll promises to be a sandy venture.

Because ‘sand’ is the business’ focus – and apparently, it’s really good sand!

The particular sand near Red Knoll is able to withstand the pressure of the earth and is therefore able to be used for frac sand. Frac sand is a high-purity quartz sand with very durable and very round grains. It is a crush-resistant material produced for use by the petroleum industry.

Most sand used for fracking in Utah is currently being transported in from Wisconsin via rail, a long and expensive proposition! Trucking it in-state should cost considerably less.

The proposed sand mine will wash the sand, much like a large washing machine, separating the sand from any clay or debris. The good sand goes from the wet washing machine into piles for drying. The sand is then dried before it is shipped out. An on-site laboratory will constantly be checking the quality of the sand, to make sure it’s up to the standards needed.

“We’re spending millions to build a closed loop project,” explained company manager Andy Gant, “meaning the water will be entirely recycled. In fact, it is a 95% reclamation project, losing only about five percent to evaporation! Water gets kicked back into the closed system. We want to capture every drop we can.”

“We basically just push back the sagebrush,” explained Gant of the sand extraction. “There is no drilling or blasting. We are regulated like any other sand and gravel industry.”

Machines digging the sand will only operate on a quarter acre at a time. The sand that is separated, and not usable, will then fill in the area that it was taken from for reclamation. “We can operate for years on a 10-acre parcel,” said Gant. “For the first five to seven years, we will only use probably 20 to 30 acres.”

Southern Red Sands is a Utah company and is made up of Utah-based investor groups. Chad Staheli is the company’s CEO. Money for the project is coming from several investors, including the Gardner Group of Salt Lake City.

But there will be a need for water, lots of water. The company has approached Kanab City for water to operate the plant, feeling the sale of water could be mutually beneficial. The company will be in charge of all related costs of drilling the well and providing any required infrastructure at no cost to the city.

“Our hydrologist is one of the very best in the state,” said Staheli, adding that they have repeatedly been told Kanab is sitting on a lot of surplus water. Kanab City has also hired their own independent hydrologist to verify that the water is actually there.

If the water is there, Kanab City will provide about 600 acre feet of water per year, while the Kane County Water Conservancy District (KCWCD) will provide an additional 600 acre feet. Although they won’t know the actual usage until the plant is up and running, Gant estimates they will need around 680 acre feet per year to operate the plant, but if they need more, they are situated to use more of KCWCD water.

Once the good sand grains are harvested, they’ll be loaded onto semi-trucks and hauled north to the Uintah Basin (or other areas where fracking sand is needed), where oil production companies would purchase it. The special sand would be mixed with fluids and chemicals, and injected underground to fracture rock formations and unlock hydrocarbons contained within. This mining method, commonly called ‘fracking,’ has been occasionally controversial.

Staheli and Gant estimate there will be about four trucks an hour leaving the plant 24/7, similar to that of Alton Coal. The trailers hauling the sand will be enclosed, as they must keep the sand dry. Southern Red Sands estimates production at one and a half million tons a year.

If investment monies continue to come together, Gant and Staheli hope to get started on the building as soon as possible. The plant will take about eight months to complete.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the proposed Southern Red Sands project is the employment potential. In an economy desperate for well-paying jobs, Gant estimates that they’ll probably hire around 80 at the plant, with 150 plus truck drivers, all at very competitive wages.

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