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Frac Sand Blues

RR071020 CDEJuly 10, 2020 – It's not a good time to be a frac sand producer. With oil prices still hovering around $40 per barrel, and no COVID-19 end in sight, frac sand producers are falling like dominoes. Recent developments include bankruptcies from major producers Covia, Hi-Crush and Vista Proppants and Logistics. While these companies are not going away – they are restructuring debt and trying to find a new normal – there is no mistaking that the carnage is real. Well production is low. Frac sand operations have closed and workers have been laid off. And there does not seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel. If there is any positive news, it comes out of Canada, where the Alberta government has proposed legislation that would redefine “minerals” and “pits,” allowing about 500 sand projects to proceed without having to submit environmental impact assessments. Now if there is a market for the sand products, we will have something to hang our hat on.

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Moving Forward Act

RR070220 NewHighwayBillJuly 2, 2020 – With the passage in the House of Representatives of the Moving Forward Act – a $1.5 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure – House Democrats have done something other than just talk about the need to repair our roads and bridges. The plan includes $319 billion for highways and of course only cursory mention of a pay-for or an increase in gas taxes. But then again, as a COVID-19 stimulus, that appears to be a moot point at this stage in U.S. history. While there is much to like in the bill, I fear it tries to do too much in one fell swoop, addressing issues such as clean energy, electric vehicles, transit and rail – all important issues, but maybe better addressed separately. I don't see how this plan can be reconciled with the Senate's bill, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019. The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed the legislation unanimously, 21-0, and it is much more narrowly focused. The bill authorizes $287 billion over five years for roads and bridges: not nearly enough, by the way. Compounding the difficulties of reconciliation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seems to have no interest whatsoever in bringing that legislation to the floor for a vote. The Trump Administration also appears to be the Grim Reaper for infrastructure, suggesting a veto is waiting for anything like the House bill. Meanwhile the September expiration of the FAST Act is coming, well, fast. Our congressional representatives need to get their acts together in short order. The nation's crumbling infrastructure should not be held hostage to the bloodsport of party politics.

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Sand and Gravel Prices

RR062920 graphv2June 29, 2020 – According to Deni Koenhemsi, senior economist ECR, Pricing and Purchasing for IHS Markit, "Sand and gravel prices very much stand out from other commodities, which have registered sizeable price drops in April and May. Although in year-over-year terms, escalation is slowing down; the sand and gravel prices do not show the effects of the pandemic."

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MSHA to Address Stakeholders

RR090519 MSHAJune 25, 2020 – Please join the Mine Safety and Health Administration for its next Quarterly Stakeholder Call on Tuesday, June 30, 2020at 2:00 p.m. ET. Assistant Secretary David G. Zatezalo will open the call with remarks about recent developments at MSHA. The call will focus on various safety topics and include an update on the current COVID-19 pandemic. Specialists will also provide updates on recent website changes, accident/injury information, trends and available training material. Participants are invited to submit any questions they may have on the RSVP link below.

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Improved Economic Metrics

RR062320 SimonsonJune 23, 2020 – According to Ken Simonson, the Associated General Contractors of America’s chief economist, the Census Bureau released the results of its seventh Small Business Pulse Survey, with responses from June 7 to 13, that “is intended to provide crucial weekly data on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the nation’s businesses.” Again, there was modest improvement in several metrics for construction firms. The share of firms that added employees (10.9%) was consistent with the previous four weeks (10.1% to 11.5%). The share with a decrease in employees (10.0%) declined from 12.1% in the May 31-June 6 week. For the sixth-straight week there was a decline in the share reporting supply-chain disruptions (29.8% vs. 31.4% the week before). The share of construction respondents that closed a location for at least one day declined to 14.4% from 17.8%. The share of construction firms that reported “little or no effect on…normal level of operations relative to one year ago” rose to a series high of 21.5% from 17.1% one week earlier. More predicted a return to usual level within three months or less (25.6% vs. 22.3%). The percentage who expect that returning to normal level would take more than six months was virtually unchanged (29.9% vs. 30.2% a week earlier), the share who do not believe their business will return to normal decreased to 4.0% from 6.3%.

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