Hi-Crush Services has informed the state Department of Workforce Development that it will implement a mass layoff at its frac sand plant in Whitehall. A total of 35 to 40 workers, mostly hourly production employees, are expected to be affected.

The company informed employees in a letter that most workers at the plant at W20757 Highway Q would be laid off beginning on or after Aug. 30. Hi-Crush indicated it anticipates laying off about 15 employees on Aug. 30 and up to 20 to 25 more workers on Sept. 6.

“The layoff is necessitated by unforeseeable business circumstances associated with decreased profitability in shipping sand from our CN plants and the Company’s responsibilities to its shareholders to operate cost effectively,” Hi-Crush said in the letter. “We are hopeful that the layoff is temporary but the duration is presently unknown. The Company does not anticipate a change in conditions in the foreseeable future and expects the layoff to last through at least the end of 2019.”

A major industry change in the last two years is that energy companies have built a number of frac sand mines closer to oilfields in Texas and Oklahoma, pushing down prices and enabling oil drillers to get local sand for less than the cost of shipping it from Wisconsin.

Hi-Crush said in the letter that laid-off workers are welcome to explore the company’s current job openings in Wisconsin and Texas.

Reflecting the volatility of the frac sand industry, the Whitehall facility has been on a roller coaster ride in the past year. Hi-Crush idled the Whitehall frac sand production facility in September but then announced early this year it was resuming operations at the Whitehall mine and halting production at its facility in Augusta.

The Houston-based company then said its Augusta workforce would be moving to the Whitehall plant, which is about 30 miles away, before making the latest layoff announcement.

Jami Kabus, the company’s local human resources manager, didn’t immediately return messages seeking an update on the status of the Augusta plant and its workforce.

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and the Western Wisconsin Workforce Development Board pledged to provide free dislocated worker services to help affected employees get back to work.

An industrial spill in May 2018 at the Whitehall plant flooded neighboring properties and entered a creek that emptied into the Trempealeau River. Water from a holding pond was released to rescue a bulldozer operator who was trapped underwater. {span}The DNR continues to monitor the environmental impact of that spill of millions of gallons of sludge.{/span}