For more than 75 years, Hoffman Construction has been in the earthmoving business. “We move dirt well,” President Jim Hoffman says. Even more importantly, the company knows how to manage projects well. The Black River Falls, Wis.-based company manages from 15 to 20 major highway and site development projects each year.
Hoffman began exploring the possibility of creating a frack sand mining arm of his business. Leveraging the firm’s project management expertise, as well as its fleet of scrapers, bulldozers, off-road trucks, backhoes and dump trucks, the company began investing its resources in the frack sand mining business.
“Frack sand is needed to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits,” Hoffman says. “This industry is booming right now and we’re centrally located in the heart of the frack sand market.”
Launched in October 2012, the company’s first project was helping to develop a frack sand mining site for EOG Resources, Chippewa County, Wis.
Hoffman recalls that when the company looked into the steps needed to create and manage a mining operation, it found the steps similar to the earthmoving projects Hoffman Construction had performed in the past. Its experience in site work and construction translated well to the mining industry, Hoffman says.
“We still have to secure permits, plan the site, screen berms, build roads, remove overburden, handle the logistics and remediate the land as we did in construction projects,” Hoffman says. “We just had to add the actual mining process and hauling the sand to the wet plant for processing to that list.”
“We’ve completed many construction projects for the Wisconsin DOT as well as the Minnesota DOT,” he says. “Our company has become very well versed in the permitting processes involved in this type of work, as well as the regional concerns.” This strict permit compliance maintains the safety of the site for the nearby residents. This is done by establishing reporting and monitoring protocols, such as dust control and water supply safety.
Speaking with project owners as well as the project’s nearby residents, Hoffman Construction will try to determine ways to save project costs, but also maintain a positive local presence. For instance, certain types of surface material can be blasted in order to expose the frack sand. “We’ll try ripping the surface with a dozer first versus blasting because the nearby residents may not like blasting,” Hoffman notes.
Working for the Wisconsin and Minnesota DOTs has also pushed the company to find ways to reduce project costs. “The WDOT and MDOT give the job to the lowest bid,” Hoffman says. “Because of this, we’ve become very good at developing cost-cutting efficiencies.”
One way the company conserves costs for its mining operations is through cost-effective logistics. “About two-thirds of the material cost comes from transporting the frack sand,” Hoffman notes. “The most cost-effective way to transport the sand is through rail car.” As a result, Hoffman Construction will not only determine whether the site is cost-effectively close enough to a rail siding, it will also help develop the rail siding if one doesn’t exist.
A firm already very focused on safety, the company had to shift its gears from OSHA regulations to become knowledgeable about Mining Safety and Health (MSHA) rules.
“Safety is the most important aspect of our work,” Hoffman says. As an incentive, team members are offered a $100 “bounty” if they spot Hoffman without his personal protective equipment.
Even with the mining business, the company is still heavily involved in the construction side of its business. Hoffman Construction recently began work on U.S. 41 road reconstruction in Brown County, Wis.