After a business lull, jobs are opening up in the local frac sand industry in light of higher oil prices.
Among those on the lookout for new employees is Texas-based Hi-Crush, a domestic producer, transporter and distributor of northern white frac sand. It operates sand excavation facilities in Blair, Augusta, Wyeville and Whitehall. The company held a job fair Tuesday in hopes of filling about 100 available positions.
“It’s good for our economy, especially for our smaller towns,” said Tina Lee, 48, of Augusta, who stood in line Tuesday afternoon to scope out the positions. “We need that.”
Lee was one among many seeking jobs at the career fair. At the start of the event, a long line of Hi-Crush hopefuls queued up behind registration computers and filled out applications for positions such as maintenance mechanic, electrician and safety specialist. Lee, currently employed in the nursing industry, said the job openings in the fracking industry mean a higher quality of life.
Wisconsin is the nation’s leading producer of sand used in hydraulic fracturing — the drilling technique commonly known as fracking that involves injecting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals deep into underground wells to force oil and natural gas to the surface. Wisconsin sand, prized for its ideal size, shape and durability, is shipped to drilling sites in states such as North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The fracking industry took a hit a couple of years ago when oil prices plummeted to $30 a gallon, said Dan Masterpole, Chippewa County Land Conservation and Forest Management director. As of Tuesday evening, oil prices were listed at about $53.
“If the price of oil is low,” Masterpole said, “then it’s not cost-effective for these guys to spend the money to frack those wells.”
Chippewa Sand Co., which operates a mine in Bloomer and a plant in New Auburn, also is considering adding employees. The mine was not in operation throughout 2016, but business unit manager Michele Karlstad said the company is considering opening it back up.
However, Karlstad said she’s aware the business operates in a commodity market and is therefore subject to ups and downs. She said she’s taking that into consideration in the coming year when it comes to hiring.
“I’m anticipating to be a bit conservative,” Karlstad said. “I do not want to overstaff employees just to let them down.”
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