People. Planet. Prosperity.

By |  August 29, 2015

The success of Fairmount Santrol can be attributed in large part to its treatment of employees, neighbors and the environment.

Fairmount Santrol, one of the nation’s longest continuously operating mining organizations, is a leading provider of high-performance sand and sand-based products used by oil and gas exploration and production companies to enhance the productivity of their wells. The company also provides high-quality products, strong technical leadership and applications knowledge to end users in the foundry, building products, water filtration, glass, and sports and recreation markets.

Throughout its nearly 40-year history, Fairmount Santrol has developed a strong commitment to all three pillars of sustainable development – People, Planet and Prosperity. Correspondingly, the company’s motto and action orientation is: “Do Good. Do Well.”

Fairmount Santrol is headquartered in Chesterland, Ohio, with facilities located across the United States, as well as in Canada, Mexico, Denmark and China. In October 2014, Fairmount Santrol completed an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange and began trading under the ticker symbol FMSA.

“During 2014, we launched innovative new products, expanded logistics capabilities, fully integrated new facilities and implemented multiple efficiency-gaining best practices,” says Aaron Scott, Fairmount Santrol’s regional manager for northern surface mines. “Our global logistics network now includes 42 proppant distribution terminals and approximately 9,500 rail cars, with unit train capabilities at three production facilities and three in-basin terminals.”

Defining different

As an industry-leading proppant solutions provider with a fully integrated business model, Fairmount Santrol is differentiated in every area of the value chain. The company is recognized as a partner of choice by its customers owing to its unmatched operational scale, fully integrated logistics network, track record of innovation and proven technology, strong and long-term customer relationships, as well as its cultural foundation rooted in its commitment to sustainable development.

Fairmount Santrol’s mining and processing facilities are located in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and Canada. All products are monitored and tested in order to consistently exceed customer needs and expectations. The Proppant Solutions segment and associated product lines are a large part of the company’s product base.

Among Fairmount Santrol’s proppant solutions are API-spec raw frac sand, resin-coated proppants, self-suspending proppant technology, activators and water-soluble ball sealers. Fairmount Santrol offers the industry’s broadest product suite, enabling it to address more than 95 percent of customer proppant needs.

Fairmount Santrol is committed to providing comprehensive sand and sand-based solutions. To achieve this, Fairmount Santrol has dedicated research teams to focus on products and technologies that reduce completion costs, increase production and generate more effective solutions for its Proppant Solutions segment customers.

The company operates three research facilities. Its facilities in Sugar Land, Texas, and Ottawa, Ill., conduct ongoing research designed to enhance product quality and customer productivity in every industry the company serves. Its Resin Development Center in Detroit is focused on engineering tougher resins that meet or exceed environmental regulations.

“Our Propel SSP proppant transport technology enables proppants to remain suspended in frac fluid so they go farther and higher into the formation, increasing oil and gas production,” Scott says. “Propel SSP increases value for operators by increasing production while decreasing the amount of horsepower, chemicals and water needed to frac the well.”

Propel SSP is a game-changing technology for the oil and gas industry in that it is a hybrid proppant and fluid system. A grain of sand is coated with a hydrogel polymer, which swells when it comes in contact with water. Then this alternative “fluid system” props open the fracture from wellbore to tip, maximizing fracture surface area to increase hydrocarbon production. Operators can eliminate additives (including guar), cross linkers and friction reducers for increased hydraulic fracturing efficiency.

Exceptional quality

Fairmount Santrol maintains a feedback system that provides customer input on order placement, delivery, quality, service and packing. In 2014, customer satisfaction was at 99.93 percent.

“We follow the standards and quality testing methods of the American Petroleum Institute, American Foundry Society, American Waterworks Association and U.S. Department of Agriculture,” Scott says. “Each Fairmount Santrol facility has key performance indicators specific to its products and processes in order to achieve the highest possible quality.”

Scott says Fairmount Santrol addresses challenges associated with transportation, weather and handling of products by reviewing its outbound shipment process on an ongoing basis.

“We have invested in additional terminals to directly supervise product handling, which helps ensure shipments arrive to customers dry and contaminant-free,” he says. “In many cases, we have transitioned to use of private railcars to eliminate residue left behind from transport of other products. We’re also working with our suppliers to improve package durability.”

Plant managers are accountable for quality control at the sites, and find assistance in quality managers and lab technicians who report to the company’s director of product quality.

“Quality testing of all our products is conducted several times throughout the production process,” Scott says. “It’s done onsite at each plant, at our Innovation Center in Ottawa or at our Technology Center in Sugar Land.”

Fairmount Santrol meets and exceeds ISO 9001 quality standards to measure quality goals and accomplishments. ISO 9001 doesn’t set quality parameters, but instead helps in achieving consistent production of a high-quality product. Currently, 11 facilities are ISO 9001 certified and it is expected that the remaining sites will achieve ISO 9001 certification within two years.

As part of its quality-control program, Fairmount Santrol piloted a computer particle analyzer at its Wedron, Ill., facility in 2014. The highly accurate device uses light and a camera to identify sand particle size, testing up to 10 samples at a time.

“This machine made our quality testing process much faster,” Scott says. “Trials at Wedron will continue and if we are able to verify that the technology improves testing efficiency and quality, we’ll invest in additional analyzers.”

Transportation practices

Trucks, trains and barges transport Fairmount Santrol’s products. Because trains are an integral factor in transportation activities, the company is sensitive to opportunities to consistently review its transportation processes in order to minimize the impact its transportation activities have in communities where the company operates.

“At our Hager City, Wis., facility, we recently completed a 19,000-ft. rail yard expansion,” Scott says. “This addition significantly improved local truck travel and traffic noise, and allowed more efficient and environmentally responsible movement of our products to customer sites.”

In tracking logistics performance, Fairmount Santrol builds strong relationships with all transportation partners, holding daily conference calls with rail partners and using optimization software to manage shipments on a daily basis. Weather is monitored during and outside business hours and four full-time shipment expeditors are available 24/7.

In 2015, Fairmount Santrol expects to strengthen its multimodal approach to delivery by incorporating more barges and unit trains into its fleet, reducing fuel costs and road congestion in the process.

“In 2014, we gained efficiency by adding more fixed storage areas, which help mitigate rail delays,” Scott says. “By adding track space at our plants and terminals and using railcars to buffer inventory, we are able to increase the amount of sand shipped in unit trains. By shipping one commodity nonstop between two terminals, we improve logistical efficiency and reliability.”

Internal efficiency

In 2014, the company’s Environmentally Responsible Products and Processes (ERPP) team implemented a new best practice to reduce the amount of additive used in oil and gas resin-coated products. The team was also able to lower the product’s processing temperature. At one plant, those improvements resulted in a reduction of more than $479,000 in production costs.

“We’re currently investigating whether or not this best practice can be implemented at additional plants,” Scott says. “Our ERPP team will continue to guide existing initiatives and begin new process improvements through testing at our coating facilities, reprocessing and reuse of waste streams, as well as improving material transfer and storage at our terminals and customer locations. This culture of innovation is promoted throughout the company and all employees – our ‘family members’ – are encouraged to contribute ideas.”

A team effort

The sustainable development (SD) culture permeates every aspect of business at Fairmount Santrol. The three pillars of SD that the company has identified – People, Planet and Prosperity – guide its dedication to ensuring a positive future for all its stakeholders.

Members of the Fairmount Santrol family are deeply engaged in this commitment. Among the numerous SD efforts at Fairmount Santrol are 13 volunteer-based SD teams that include an SD director, 10 regional SD coordinators, SD advisory committee, board of directors and the input of all Fairmount Santrol employees. SD efforts are seen as a major factor in the record-breaking year of production, profit and growth Fairmount Santrol enjoyed in 2014.

“Each year our sustainable development teams identify goals related to economic, social and environmental responsibilities,” Scott says. “In 2014, our 13 SD teams realized an average of accomplishing 111 percent of their 2014 goals. Together, we dedicated nearly 20,000 hours to community volunteering and reached 1 million consecutive safe working hours for the second time in the company’s history. We also brought together some 500 [employees] and 60 valued stakeholders in an effort to learn from one another and discuss a vision for our company’s future, through our Appreciative Inquiry Summit.

“Our impacts are both tangible and intangible,” Scott adds. “Some are easier to measure than others. We achieved six best practices goals in 2014 that saved the company more than $4,327,000. Through a media campaign, innovation toolbox and facility outreach, we furthered the company’s culture of innovation.”

Safety practices

In 2009, Fairmount Santrol established a Safety and Health Management System (SHMS) to promote a company culture that encourages safe behaviors along with ongoing efforts to continue improving safety and health performance. The system is designed to identify, manage and eliminate risks to employees, stakeholders and facilities within Fairmount Santrol’s control or influence.

Overall, SHMS is organized to meet or exceed compliance with all local, state and federal legislation, standards, regulations and policies. Each facility, within five years of opening or being acquired by Fairmount Santrol, is required to achieve compliance and certification with the Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Services (OHSAS) 18001 system.

“We use IndustrySafe safety management software to track and report core safety data requirements to meet health and safety program needs,” Scott says. “In 2014, we added new modules to SHMS that include job hazard analysis, contractor and vendor tracking, and methods to improve the industrial hygiene base.”

Each month, production facilities hold monthly training sessions to address all programs, initiatives and data collection outlined in the company’s annual health and safety agenda. Program modules include hazard identification, risk assessment and determining controls; legal and other requirements; objectives and programs; competence, training and awareness; communication, participation and consultation.

“We believe leadership should lead by example, which is why supervisors attend annual safety training sessions and receive one-on-one training to incorporate safety measures at their facilities,” Scott says. “To further advance safety, we encourage opening every meeting, regardless of the nature, with a safety message.”

Environmental accountability

Fairmount Santrol’s dedication to environmental responsibility means looking closely at every aspect of the company to evaluate opportunities to improve practices.

“In our resin-coated products, we’re lowering free phenols and creating or identifying alternative chemistries that are free of any leachates or chemicals of concern,” Scott says. “For our industrial and recreation customers, innovative efforts include reducing emission and waste streams at Fairmount Santrol and customer facilities, incorporating recycled content into our product offerings, and enhancing our product lines through increased process efficiencies and raw material sourcing.”

Fairmount Santrol’s goal is to achieve zero waste at every facility. By the end of 2014, Fairmount Santrol brought the number of zero waste facilities to a total of 18, reducing the company’s solid waste by more than 90 percent overall since 2009, when the company-wide zero-waste goal was initiated. Several new capital equipment, technology and process solutions to enhance energy efficiencies were also introduced, and the company supported the planting of 75,000 trees to offset Fairmount Santrol’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental accountability is critical to Fairmount Santrol’s underground mine sites. For example, bats that inhabit the “old workings” at Fairmount Santrol’s underground mines in Wisconsin are receiving a helping hand from the company. White Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a disease with potential to affect four bat species that hibernate in the mines. The disease can be introduced to a population through another bat or a human visitor. WNS can eventually lead to death through starvation, dehydration and exposure to cold, owing to the bats’ tendency to often awaken during cold winter months when they normally hibernate.

Working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Fairmount Santrol has helped install automated environmental monitoring sites in its mines to measure temperature, pressure and humidity, to learn how company operations affect bat-roosting locations. Thermal imaging cameras also allow researchers to observe whether bats wake up from hibernation, which helps with early WNS detection.

“Outside the mines, we’ve cleaned up entrance areas to remove invasive plants like burdock that can entrap bats,” Scott says. “We’re also actively patrolling mine entrances to prevent unauthorized mine access. If researchers enter the mine, they wear clean, protective clothing and follow special procedures to avoid bringing the WNS fungus in from other areas.”

Natural resource stewardship

Water is a key element used in processing industrial sand. Water needs at most Fairmount Santrol sites are met through on-site high-capacity wells, man-made surface water bodies created by past mining activities and rainwater capture.

“We are committed to the efficient use of water,” Scott says. “We focus on increasing use of recycled water and decreasing the amount of water used to wash our sand. We estimate that about 95 percent of the water used in our operations is recycled.”

Fairmount Santrol adds that it is dedicated to meeting state and local regulatory agency water use and quality standards, regularly conducting and reporting water testing results to the appropriate agencies. Both internal and third-party water testing ensures that discharge water complies with regulations. It also supports Fairmount Santrol’s transparency and open dialogue policy to help alleviate community concerns regarding water use and quality.

Settling is used to treat water turbidity caused by washing fine-grained silts and clays from mined deposits. Some sites use water-clarifying tanks that expedite the settling process and improve recycling processes. Clarified water goes back to the washing process. Settled solids are used in reclamation projects.

During 2014, new water management plans were implemented in seven facilities and 22 water workshops/education sessions were completed. Water management review sessions reduced water-related costs by more than $66,000.

Curlex blocks are used at Fairmount Santrol’s largest facility to improve stormwater management. Composed of filter media wrapped in textile, the blocks improve stormwater quality by controlling turbidity.

“This technology is much more effective than more traditional methods such as straw bales or silt fences,” Scott says.

Welcoming to neighbors

Fairmount Santrol says it is committed to exceeding expectations and going beyond compliance. To ensure it remains in good standing as a responsible operator and corporate citizen, Fairmount Santrol addresses public interests early on in the permitting process.

“Fairmount Santrol engages in community dialogue, remains transparent and seeks solutions to meet community needs,” Scott says. “Within our permit applications, we provide information regarding our management approach and commitment to sustainable development.”

Among the management topics Fairmount Santrol addresses are air quality, direct and indirect economic impacts, ground vibration from controlled blasting operations, groundwater and surface-water quality and quantity, and mine reclamation.

“We also address topics such as traffic, noise and social interest concerns, including property values and tourism,” Scott says.

Fairmount Santrol taking the extra step

Fairmount Santrol demonstrates commitment to going beyond compliance for land management standards through participation in national and state environmental certification programs, such as ISO 14001 and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Green Tier program.

All of its Wisconsin mining facilities have attained Green Tier certification, and the company is actively engaged in improving sustainable mining practices for the industry through membership in the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association. In addition, several valuable partnerships with organizations help protect and support species diversity at Fairmount Santrol operating locations, including the Wildlife Habitat Council, Saving Birds Thru Habitat, and Bat Conservation International.

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Green Tier Program participant requirements:
■ A good environmental record.
■ A willingness to exceed regulatory requirements.
■ An environmental management system in place, or be willing to adopt one.
■ Ideas for improving performance that will benefit both business and the environment.

Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association (WISA): Participation and leadership in various industry groups and associations give Fairmount Santrol the opportunity to partner with peers to raise industry standards and increase adoption of responsible practices. Through charter membership in the WISA, Fairmount Santrol has collaborated with peers to publish white papers on crystalline silica, water-soluble polymers and groundwater.

The company’s studies on air and water quality have generated dialogue with regulatory agencies and peers on improving industry standards. Fairmount Santrol is reporting its safety data to the International Mining Association of North America and has shared its safety program and Safety and Health Management System with peers to enhance the well-being of all mining workers.

Facilities’ 2014 awards/recognition:
■ Silver Award for Resource Management and Waste Minimization from the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) (Detroit operation)
■ Sustainability Award from SOCMA (Detroit operation)
■ Large Business of the Year Award from the McCulloch County Chamber of Commerce (Voca, Texas operation)
■ Gold Certificate of Achievement in Environmental Excellence from the Illinois Association of Aggregate Producers (IAAP) (Wedron, Ill. operation)
■ Community Relations Award from IAAP (Wedron, Ill. operation)
■ Green Masters Award from the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council (all Wisconsin operations)

Take note

Water is a key element used in processing industrial sand. Water needs at most Fairmount Santrol sites are met through on-site high-capacity wells, man-made surface water bodies created by past mining activities and rainwater capture.

Loretta Sorensen is a freelance writer in Yankton, S.D. She produces material on a variety of topics, serves as a ghostwriter, and has authored her own books.

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About the Author:

Allison Kral is the former senior digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Portable Plants magazine, GPS World magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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