The sand mining company Southern Red Sands LLC plans to mine the sand at the Red Knoll sand hills, just north of Kanab. The Salt Lake City-based company is affiliated with the Gardner Company. In 2018, Southern Red Sands secured mining claims for 12,000 acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. It also has a contract with Utah’s School and Institutional Land Trust Administration to build a large industrial processing plant on SITLA land to process the sand to be used in oil and gas fracking.
The sand mine and processing facility will have a devastating impact on the beautiful landscape, Native American artifacts, Kanab’s economy, the water supply, Scenic Highway 89, and the air quality.
The Iconic Landscape
The site of the frac sand mine and processing facility is located on Utah’s Heritage Highway 89, at the gateway to the small southwestern town of Kanab. It is at the heart of the “Grand Circle” of national parks and monuments: the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Staircase Escalation National Monument.
The sand hills around Red Knoll have been a popular place for Kanab families to visit since the founding of Kanab in 1864. People go for hiking, photographing the views of the white cliffs and Zion’s peaks, star viewing, ATV’ing, hunting, picnicking, and to relax.
Southern Red Sands now holds approximately 13,000 acres of mining claims in the Red Knoll area, 10 miles from Zion National Park. The mining claims are on public land (BLM and SITLA), that borders the Peekaboo slot canyon, Diana’s Throne cliff formation, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.
The red sand will be mined down to the bare rock, processed, and hauled by trucks to oil fracking sites. Noise and dust from the processing plant will travel for miles, ruining any experience of tranquility. Bright lights will light up the otherwise exceptional dark night sky, and the Milky Way will no longer be visible. These negative impacts will be present year round.
Wildlife migration and breeding patterns will be disturbed. Bald eagles may no longer soar over the Red Knoll. Many springs will dry up, and the wildlife that depends on the water for survival will disappear. The relict ponderosa pine trees will die from lack of water.
The area around Red Knoll was the home of the Anasazis, an ancient native American culture. Their petroglyphs still decorate cliff walls and alcoves. Ceramic pottery is buried in the sand dunes. Tools and arrowheads are scattered throughout the area. When Southern Red Sands starts mining and processing sand, these Native American artifacts will be lost forever.
The Tourism Economy
Kanab has the reputation as being “Magically Unspoiled.” A frac sand mine and processing operation of this scale is incompatible with Kanab’s attractiveness as a tourist designation, and will negatively impact our economy. Visitors come here from all over the world to enjoy the national parks and beautiful landscape of Southwest Utah. Kanab has over 40 hotels, motels, and inns. Many locals earn additional income from vacation rentals. A number of tour & adventure companies offers tours to the Peekaboo Slot Canyon, the White Wave, the Red Knoll, the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and native American archeological sites.
Visitors spend millions of dollars in Kanab each year. Moreover, Kane County has a tourism tax of 10.5% on hotels and restaurants, which is an important source of income for the local government. Two in every five employees work in the tourism industry.
The reality is that Kanab’s economy is a tourism economy. Some of these tourists decide to stay. Artists, animal lovers, and retirees have moved to Kanab in recent decades, resulting in new construction jobs, and more stores opening up.
The job impact of an industrial frac sand mine could be significant, and mostly negative. Southern Red Sands says that it will create 40 jobs, many being special-skilled jobs that will not go to local residents. With 40 percent of Kanab’s employment being in lodging, restaurants and recreation, many more jobs will be lost as result of the frac sand mine project.
How attractive will Kanab continue to be for locals and visitors staying at local hotels and eating at local restaurants and enjoying local tourist attractions? How many tourists will stay away? How many people will move away? And, will Kanab still be a place drawing artists and retirees from around the world?
Kanab is located in the dry Southwest desert and water is a limited resource. Kanab’s drinking water comes from an aquifer under Southern Red Sand’s frac sand mine site. The aquifer feeds numerous natural springs that wildlife, trees, and flowers depend on for survival. The sand dunes collect and transport water to desert ponds, including the Three Lakes that Montezuma’s treasure according to legend is hidden.
The frac sand processing operation will require a large amount of water from Kanab’s aquifer. On July 9th, 2019, Kanab City Council approved a 50-year water contract with Southern Red Sands, conditional on the City lawyer’s review. Under this contract, Southern Red Sands will buy 600 acre-feet of water from the city of Kanab every year. That is equal to 196 million gallons of water. The water will come from the aquifer that Kanab depends on for drinking water.
A contract clause that gave the City the right to suspend the contract in the case of a water shortage was deleted from the final version of the contract. Instead the City Council leaves it to Southern Red Sands to determine whether a continuous decline in the water levels of the City’s water wells over a period of several years is a result of Southern Red Sand’s diversion to its sand processing plant. And the contract leaves it to Southern Red Sands to decide what measures, if any, should be taken when the water levels drop.
In April 2019, Kane County Water Conservancy District also signed a contract to sell Southern Red Sands an additional 600 acre-feet of water each year for up to 50 years. So in total, Southern Red Sands is getting 1200 acre-feet of water from Kanab’s water aquifer each year, equal to 391 million gallons – or 1.1 million gallons of water per day.
A 2016 study by the Utah Division of Water Resources projects that the Kane County Water Conservancy District will face a shortfall of reliable drinking water by year 2035, only 15 years from now. These calculations were made WITHOUT the additional demands of this proposed mining operation. How much sooner would we face a water shortfall with a large-scale industrial frac sand facility taking large quantities of water?
Frac sand mining will disrupt our quiet rural life with incessant noise and pollution from truck traffic. Southern Red Sands plans to ship frac sand by heavy trucks to oil fracking sites in Uintah Basin in northern Utah. However, several frac sand mines near the Uintah Basin are opening up this year, that will provide frac sand cheaper than Southern Red Sands. So likely Southern Red Sands will also sell frac sand to oil fracking sites in San Juan Basic in New Mexico. This means a large number of heavy trucks traveling right through the heart of Kanab.
Southern Red Sands states that “A truck can carry 42 tons of sand. If we produced 700 thousand tons per year that’s roughly 46 trucks per day or one truck every half-hour annualized over a year.” Of course trucks have to return to pick up more frac sand. And, the standard load of a truck is 25 tons of sand (truck load of 42 tons is illegal on most Interstate highways, including Highway 89). More likely, the number of trucks will be around 150 per day – equal to one truck every 10 minutes 24/7. If Southern Red Sands produces more than 700,000 tons of frac sand per year (the average frac mine in Wisconsin produces 1.5 million tons) even more trucks will clog our scenic highway.
The increased truck traffic will diminish the quality of life for people living in Kanab who will breath the polluted air every day, endure noise around the clock, and navigate heavy truck traffic. In Wisconsin, rural communities along frac sand trucking routes have suffered health issues, declining populations, and closing of shops and restaurants.
An industrial frac sand facility at the gateway to our community will jeopardize Kanab’s reputation as a beautiful and peaceful place to live and visit. Tourists – who come to Kanab to enjoy the beautiful scenery, a peaceful surroundings, and clean desert air – will go somewhere else.