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Wisconsin frack industry recovers, faces new competition (UPDATE)

A dump truck hauls a load of sand on Thursday from the Sand Products of Wisconsin mine near Whitehall to a processing and loading operation. Wisconsin's frack-sand industry has come roaring back from a slump that idled mines two years ago, fueled by a continued surge in domestic crude-oil production.(Erik Daily/La Crosse Tribune via AP)

A dump truck hauls a load of sand on Thursday from the Sand Products of Wisconsin mine near Whitehall to a processing and loading operation. Wisconsin’s frack-sand industry has come roaring back from a slump that idled mines two years ago, fueled by a continued surge in domestic crude-oil production.(Erik Daily/La Crosse Tribune via AP)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A surge in domestic crude-oil production has helped Wisconsin’s frack-sand industry overcome a slump that idled mines two years ago, but it now faces new competition.

Producers and industry analysts expect demand for U.S. frack sand to grow this year after a strong 2017, the La Crosse Tribune reported. Frack sand is used in the hydraulic fracturing process to extract oil and natural gas from rock.

Falling oil prices in 2015 slowed drilling and caused many of Wisconsin’s sand mines to lay off workers. The industry rebounded after domestic crude production began to increase.

“We’re looking at a really good year,” said Rich Budinger, spokesman for the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association.

Many idled mines are now ramping up production, Budinger said.

“They can pretty much sell all the sand they want,” said Kent Syverson, an industry consultant and chairman of the geology department at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Several new mines in Texas will begin operations this year, but experts don’t expect them to cut into the Wisconsin market because Texas’ finer grain sand is different from Wisconsin’s northern white sand.

“The Texas sand is a definitely a big deal,” said Ryan Carbrey, senior vice president and analyst for Rystad Energy. “However, we think the demand is growing so much that there won’t be a negative impact on white sand.”

Demand is expected to increase the price of northern white sand by 10 to 12 percent this year, Carbrey said.

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