FAIRFIELD TOWNSHIP - The vision is coming together.
In about a week, when two additional Chesapeake Energy fracking crews arrive, activity at the Buckeye Transfer Realty facility just outside Columbiana will pick up more than just perceptibly.
The emerging shale boom continues fueling Jerry Stoneburner's vision for what began as a 95-acre truck-to-rail oil and gas transfer point, but is emerging into full-service logistical supply depot for drilling companies.
Crew leader Jethro Taylor stands aboard Buckeye Transfer Realty’s rail car mover fitted with couplers for moving railroad cars around the 95-acre yard in Fairfield Township. As the facility grows, the car mover will be used to move oil and gas condensate tankers along with 100,000-ton frack sand cars.
Stoneburner has vision, Larry Kosiba of Salem's Sustainable Opportunity Development Center said. Lisa Wallace, Buckeye's chief operating officer and general counsel, said she recalls Stoneburner declaring that the former National Refractories facility off state Route 344 had the one thing realtors love: Location.
"For months," she said, "I kept hearing Jerry say, 'we're in the perfect location' ... repeatedly ... and now everyone say, 'You're in the perfect location.'"
Fairfield Township Trustee Barry Miner picked up on that.
Last May he said, "There's a rail yard and four-lane highway (state Route 11), it's perfect for oil and natural gas ... this business is here to support oil and gas. I knew it would be prime for development."
Miner and Trustee Chairman Bob Hum and Trustee Carl Garwood, along with the township zoning board, helped approve a conditional use while smoothing out some rough spots regarding increased truck traffic.
As the geological trail was broken, the interstate highway and the east-west rail proximity couldn't be ignored. And to someone with vision, the logistics, which is better known for winning wars than just about anything else, became obvious.
Stoneburner said, "Logistics ... we're in perfect shape."
During the conditional use hearings last year before the zoning board, Wallace hinted at further development "and other companies" that might want to take advantage of the opportunities on the property.
Stoneburner already has his own BMC Trucking operating on the site and hopes to secure permits to recycle drill-site brine water so an unwanted step can be eliminated.
"It can be reused," Stoneburner said, "I hope that (the approvals) take ... because it will take the deep-well injection off the table."
Continental Water Systems has proposed operating a recycling facility that will occupy a small part of the site.
Frack water will be filtered and the chemicals neutralized so the water can be used again. The filtered materials will be transported to a landfill 60 miles away.
For now, frack sand sold by Sandtrol is the number one product on the site, but the oil and condensate transfer station will eventually outstrip the sand sales in value and scale with the potential for what Wallace calls a unitrain every day.
"If it develops as we think," she said.
Unitrains consist of 100 cars for sand and 60 cars for oil and condensate, Wallace said, explaining there are fewer cars in the oil and condensate unitrains because the cars are 20 feet longer than the 45-foot sand cars.
There are about 40 rail cars loaded with Wisconsin and Illinois frack sand on the site now, ready for unloading to trucks by custom-made Rail-Barge-Truck (RBTs) mobile transfer conveyors.
"There are four RBTs on site now," Stoneburner said. "We'll have multi-loading and trans-loading locations ... that's where we're unique."
The three-member transloading crews unload the 100,000-ton railcars directly into waiting tucks that immediately gear off to drill sites.
The first 60 loads have gone out of state but for Ohio work Stoneburner wants Ohio employees. "Drivers love coming here," he said. "Because were have them in and out in a half-hour."
The Kentucky-built RBTs are geared to unload 250 tons and hours and are capable of handling a truck in about 15 minutes. "Right now we're doing about 100 tons an hours," Stoneburner said.
Another key aspect is that Buckeye Transfer loads only Sandtrol customers.
"There are no mixups," he said, explaining that with too many sand people to service there can be confusion.
"We're exclusively Sandtrol," he said.
Wallace said, "All we have to do is make sure we get the right car out."
Using their own learning curve, Stoneburner said they now clearly identity what type of sand is in the railcars.
"When a railcar comes in we put on magnetic signs identifying the sand," he said. Wallace produced three clear glass vials with 100 Mesh sand, the finest; 30/50 sand, which is a little coarser; and, a 30/50 sand that is resin-coated and "very, very expensive."
Stoneburner said, "I think they use that very sparingly."
Wallace said, "We're growing so fast Sandtrol is sending someone up to help us with the learning curve."
Currently, Buckeye Transfer owns and operates seven pneumatic sand and two vacuum trucks, all made locally by MAC Trailer and turn-key ready to assist in deliveries.
Beginning in mid-January, Buckeye Transfer loaded about 1,100 tons of sand and February has been up and down, at around 8,000 tons midway.
But that will change on Feb. 21, Stoneburner said when Chesapeake firms up operations by bringing in two more fracking crews.
Expectations are that March will triple or possibly quadruple February, hitting between 25,000 and 30,000 tons.
"We'll keep building from there," Stoneburner said. "We're in the process of hiring crews ... we need to gear up ... we have to hire them and train them ..."
Buckeye Transfer is looking for high school educated people with a good work ethic, common sense, a clean driving record, the ability to work outdoors and be on-call 24-7.
It doesn't hurt to have basic computer skills.
"There's not a lot of physical work required," he said, explaining interested people can apply at the Columbiana County One Stop (7989 Dickey Drive, Lisbon; 330-420-9675).
He explained that 10 to 15 people are needed at the 25,000 to 30,000-ton level and probably as many as 30 people when the 50,000-ton level is reached.
Like many dealing with oil and gas drillers, Stoneburner has learned, "They want it and want it now ... they can turn you on and off like a faucet."
At some point, Stoneburner expects to build sand silos or storage buildings since the sand, called proppant by specialists, has to be protected form the elements.
"We'll keep it in railcars for now," he said."
There are plans for pipe storage too, which Wallace said is made possible "because of the rail spur."
Stoneburner said, "There's going to be a lot of activity here on the 21st of February."