Scott County's first silica sand mine opened 30 years ago, on a plot of land between Jordan and Shakopee. But after ten years, due to a lack of demand, it closed.
Fast-forward to last month, when Shakopee Sand LLC — a different company mining the same spot — abruptly shut down the mine until further notice. Lower demand for frac sand in the oil and gas industries is to blame, according to a letter Shakopee Sand's parent company, Fairmount Santrol, sent to the county on June 29.
"While these decisions are difficult and have been made with great care, they are absolutely necessary to safeguard Fairmount Santrol's long-term sustainability," the letter said.
Fairmount Santrol is headquartered in Ohio, and has facilities throughout the United States and abroad. To city and county officials, Shakopee Sand appeared healthy.
The facility's first shipment went out in September 2013. That same year, the mine's annual report showed a positive outlook.
"In 2014 sufficient sales are anticipated to support full production of the facility throughout the year," the report said.
Across the industry, it was a record year. In Shakopee, the facility operated at full capacity, said Aaron Scott, Fairmount Santrol's Northern Area Surface Mining Manager.
But the silica sand industry doesn't exist in a bubble. Silica is used in products as diverse as light bulbs and toothpaste, but in recent years has experienced strong demand for its use in hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), a process in which the sand is blasted into shale to release oil and gas. With oil prices down, there's less demand for silica sand.
Most of the demand for sand produced at the Shakopee facility was from the oil and gas markets, Scott said, although it was also used in metal casting, construction, sports and recreation and the manufacturing of glass, shingles and water filtration systems.
Shakopee Sand can employ a maximum of about two dozen employees, but fewer than 20 people were affected by the closure, Scott said.
"It's kind of a shame. Those were … good jobs and for the most part, they were very local people employed there," said Scott County Commissioner Joe Wagner, who represents the area where the mine is located.
Employees contacted by phone declined to comment or did not return messages.
Scott said employees who were laid off may be considered for positions when Shakopee Sand reopens, and in the meantime they are being encouraged to check for work opportunities at other facilities.
It's unclear when the mine will reopen. For now, Scott said, continued environmental compliance and facility security are the biggest concerns.
"We'll continue to focus on what we can control," he said.
Emma Nelson • 952-746-3287