Texas’ oil and gas industry is seeing a boom — thanks in large part to the relatively new oil-drilling method called fracking. Late last year, Texas oil helped push the country to become the largest producer of crude in the world. Around the same time, however, the boom came to an end for one town in the Hill Country.
If you follow State Highway 71 west, it ends in Brady, a town of about 6,000 people in McCulloch County. The stretch of Hill Country has a unique geology.
“Sand goes back a long, long way here in Brady,” Mayor Anthony Groves says. “I had cousins that worked in the sand plant in the ’50s and ’60s timeframe, so sand plants have been here for a long, long time.”
The sand here has a nickname in the oil industry: Brady Brown. It’s had many uses over the years, but mining operations were turned up a few notches when fracking came into vogue. Sand — good sand — is an essential ingredient for the technique.
“Some people looked at Brady as a mining town, or McCulloch County as a mining county, because of so much of the central steady part of the income came from the sand mines,” Groves says.
The success of fracking — and drillers’ thirst for sand — brought bigger, international mining operations to Brady. Some bought existing mines. Some started new ones. Most bought up neighboring ranchland and deer leases for expansion. Tiny McCulloch County was eventually home to seven sand plants.
Until last November.
“They told everybody no vacation, no nothin’, we have the big guys coming in,” Arturo Aguirre says. “So, they come in, and Tuesday they told us we’re shutting down.”