Proponents back away from divisive plan to mine sand for fracking near Kanab

(Photo courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society) This photo from a May trip to Red Knoll near Kanab shows some of the landscape in the area of a proposed sand mind, which would provide material to use in fracking operations in the Uinta Basin.

A controversial sand quarry proposed for the undulating pink dunes outside Kanab will not get developed, according to an announcement the mine proponents released Thursday.

Citing unspecified findings of its “due diligence activities” and “other feasibility assessments,” Southern Red Sands said it will not pursue the venture that it expected would produce up to 700,000 tons of sand to be used in fracking operations a few hundred miles away in Uinta Basin oil and gas fields.

The company, backed by Salt Lake City-based developer Kem C. Gardner, issued the statement jointly with Best Friends Animal Society, Kane County’s largest private employer and a leading opponent of the mine proposal. In a deal to resolve the mine standoff, Best Friends purchased Southern Red Sands’ mineral rights to 12,000 acres on federal land, according to the organization’s publicist Eric Rayvid.

“The land was adjacent to our sanctuary and we were worried about the drain on water that could put us out of existence in 10 to 15 years,” Rayvid said. “We were happy when they decided to pull out, which opened the door for us to purchase the mineral rights. By securing the mineral rights, we are going to be able to protect our sanctuary from other potential mines, our water and the animals and people at our sanctuary.”

Southern Red Sands had acquired water from both Kane County Water Conservancy District and Kanab to operate the mine and processing facility on a state trust parcel 11 miles northwest of the city. As those transactions became public, the project quickly became a wedge issue in Kanab.

Many residents supported the participation of the city and county in a project that would bring industrial jobs to the area and raise money for public schools, since it was tapping minerals on a state trust section. Others argued a major sand mine would detract from the region’s scenic desert beauty (which boosts the local economy) suck limited water resources from other uses, and leave a mess for taxpayers to clean up.

In recent years, Kane County leaders had promoted the idea of cashing in on the fracking boom that has swept the oil and gas industry. An entire trainload of sand is needed to hydraulically fracture a single horizontal well bore. Until recently, industry got much of the sand from Wisconsin, which holds thick deposits of sand with the right characteristics for propping open fractures in the rock formations holding hydrocarbons.

But high transportation costs spurred industry players to develop sources of sand closer to the oil and gas fields in Texas and New Mexico. Some industry observers are predicting an oversupply of sand, which could drive down prices and render proposed mines like the one near Kanab uneconomical.

Rayvid declined to say how much Best Friends paid for Southern Red Sands’ mineral rights, citing a nondisclosure agreement. The two parties will continue to work together to arrange details of a plan that will “preserve the land, water and wildlife habitat,” the joint statement said.

Southern Red Sands holds leases with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration on the parcels it intended to mine. Any conservation deal to retire those leases would likely require a check to the agency charged with maximizing revenue off state-owned land to build the state’s education endowment.