Three’s company: Growing a frac sand mining operation

By |  November 6, 2015

Doug Schmidt had no experience in mining or aggregates four years ago when he and two business partners came across an opportunity to mine frac sand at Doc’s Bunkhouse, a campground in Merrillan, Wis.

“We came up to this area and saw lots of frac sand somewhat in our own backyard that could be sold to oil fracking companies,” Schmidt says.

So Schmidt and his partners, Greg Cashman and Jon Sopher, launched Coulee Frac Sand, a frac sand mining operation, and dubbed the site PineCrest Mine.

Although none of the three had mining experience, Schmidt says they each brought an asset to the company.

“I’m a mechanical engineering guy, so I know about how equipment works,” he says. “[Cashman] is an architect, so he helped to develop the land. And [Sopher] had experience with commercial business development.”

Schmidt says it took a lot of research and a number of discussions for Coulee Frac Sand to edge its way into the aggregate industry.

“It was intimidating starting off, but we had to be very persistent,” he says. “For example, when I was tired at night when starting the business, I knew I had to stay up late and continue reading more on the industry. Persistence was key, and persistence wins.”

When Coulee Frac Sand first surveyed the land at the PineCrest Mine, it discovered a lot of water about 6 ft. below ground level. Aside from the groundwater and precipitation, Schmidt says the site lacks a natural flowing source of water. Because of the groundwater, the company purchased a 10-in. Wolverine Class cutter-suction dredge from DSC Dredge to mine the area.

According to DSC Dredge, a 440-hp Caterpillar C13 Acert diesel engine powers the Wolverine. The cutterhead, designed with six cast-steel smooth blades, is attached to a variable-speed, reversible, hydraulic cutter motor that Kawasaki manufactures. The Wolverine’s dredge pump, a J30 Metso Minerals/Thomas Simplicity series, is rated for 200 ft. of total discharge head at 4,200 gallons per minute.

To prepare the mine, Coulee Frac Sand excavated a quarter-acre starting pit 12 ft. deep and 4 ft. below the water table with the dredge. Schmidt says the company began using the dredge in April 2015 to mine frac sand between 20 and 140 mesh. The company produces 20/70 mesh and 70/140 mesh wet cut frac sand.

The company says it can dredge up to 25 ft. below the surface. The dredge can excavate in the shallow conditions at the PineCrest Mine, as well as in deeper conditions as the mine’s lake and river expand with the project.

Schmidt adds that the mine was designed so that return water, stockpile drainage and stormwater can flow back into an artificial river and back into a lake in a closed loop. Water cannot be drawn from outside sources.

In addition to the Wolverine dredge, another key component of the mine is a McLanahan wet processing plant that incorporates screens, separators, hydrocyclones and a hydrosizer that separates and dewaters oversized, coarse and fine sand the dredge receives.

When picking equipment for the PineCrest Mine, Schmidt says he considered portability.

“This is only a three-year operation, so there was a need for portability,” he says. “We looked for more modular equipment.”

Giving back

Coulee Frac Sand made an agreement with Doc’s Bunkhouse in order to mine on the campground’s property. As a thank you, Schmidt says Coulee Frac Sand plans to give back to the campground by creating a recreational, man-made lake on the site near where the Wolverine dredge is being used. Schmidt adds that Coulee Frac Sand will help redesign several camping lodges at Doc’s Bunkhouse.

“[Cashman] is an architect, so we were able to contribute by redesigning some of the lodges at the camp,” Schmidt says. “We knew we had to build trust with the campground and that it wouldn’t have been good to just leave. We wanted to follow through on what we did and said.”

Schmidt estimates operations will finish in about two or three years, explaining that the PineCrest Mine site spans only 21 acres. He says the company plans to find additional mine locations in the next couple of years.

“We’re thankful for what we had with the area and thankful for the campground,” Schmidt says. “We want to mine about 2 million tons of frac sand here. For our first mine, it was a good location to get us started since you have to walk before you run.”

Take note

The Wolverine Class dredge can excavate in the shallow conditions at the PineCrest Mine, as well as in deeper conditions as the mine’s lake and river expand with the project.

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About the Author:

Megan Smalley is the associate editor of Pit & Quarry. Contact her at or 216-363-7930.

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