On the market

A “for sale” sign has been placed in front of what was formerly the sand testing facility for Superior Silica Sands. The building is located at 1512 E. Division Ave. Photo by Bob Zientara

Within a year after emerging from Chapt. 11 bankruptcy, Superior Silica Sands has decided to sell its Barron-based sand testing facility.

A sign went up in front of the J.D. Walker Resource Center, 1512 E. Division Ave., last weekend. The building is being offered for sale by ReMax Commercial Real Estate, Eau Claire.

Listing agent Krag Blomberg did not immediately reply to a request for comment by deadline Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Superior Silica Sands, along with its parent company, Fort Worth, Tex.-based Emerge Energy, announced it was purchasing the former Bank Mutual building in August 2015.

The property also included five acres of land, which the company indicated at the time, could be useful for further expansion.

At the time, Superior Silica was emerging from three years of primarily steady growth, including five frac sand mines in and near Barron County, the construction of a dry sand processing plant in Poskin, a transloading facility at New Auburn, and plans on the drawing board for another dry sand plant in the town of Arland.

Later the same year, however, world crude oil prices went down, along with the demand for Wisconsin frac sand.

By the time the J.D. Walker Resource Center opened in August 2017, Superior Silica Sands had experienced a contraction that included scores of layoffs and a temporary closure of the Arland plant.

The up-and-down pattern continued for crude oil prices, eventually leading to Chapt. 11 bankruptcy proceedings for Emerge Energy through much of 2019.

Former Superior Silica Sands CEO Rick Shearer said Monday, Aug. 10, that he left Emerge Energy three months ago when it became apparent that “new ownership wanted to do business differently.”

Before leaving the company, Shearer learned that the new management “decided they needed to sell off assets in the company … and that … one of those assets was the (Barron) resource center.”

Continued downward pressure on worldwide crude prices, coupled with the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, “has resulted in a perfect storm” in the fracking industry, Shearer said.

“Drilling is a fraction of what it had been,” he said. “It will be very difficult to bring it back to what it had been.”