George Hohmann: Shales keep giving
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The natural gas-rich shales: nature's gifts that keep on giving.
Now comes word that although coal shipments by rail are down as utilities shift to burning natural gas to generate electricity, shipments of sand used to fracture shale formations are up.
"Moving sand, pipe and other drilling equipment gives carriers such as CSX, the largest U.S. eastern railroad, new cargo as coal customers scale back," Bloomberg News noted on Thursday.
Bloomberg quoted CSX Chief Executive Officer Michael Ward as saying that moving fracking sand into the Marcellus Shale region (which underlies much of West Virginia) is "a great growth opportunity for us."
According to Bloomberg, CSX's fracking-sand carloads grew by more than 40 percent to more than 12,000 in 2011.
Bloomberg said that although Norfolk Southern does not provide data for sand shipments, the railroad's total carloads for the Marcellus shale region rose 67 percent to 40,000 last year, compared to 2010.
Even though sand shipments are up, "coal still accounts for at least twice as large a portion of North American commodity carloads as any other category," the news service said.
ICF Inc. of Fairfax, Va., has been awarded the contract to provide an independent analysis of the state's current broadband infrastructure and to advise state Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette and the Governor's Office.
The state will pay ICF an hourly rate of $147.81. The contract is for one year but could be extended for up to two additional years.
Following last Sunday's column, a reader called about the state Division of Motor Vehicles' proof-of-residency requirement for obtaining or renewing a driver's license under the strict new "Real ID" requirements.
The reader said, "Regarding the woman in the dilemma of not having acceptable proofs of address in her name: For people in her situation, if they bring their certified marriage document that has their spouse's name on it, they may use the spouse's utility bills for proof of address."
I asked DMV spokeswoman Natalie Harvey if that is correct.
"We do have the Affidavit of Residency, but the spouse has to be present and present his or her proof of identification and residency as well," she said.
Another reader expressed concern about the DMV keeping images of the documents it is requiring of people who obtain or renew a driver's license. The reader wanted to know how the agency is protecting the information.
Harvey said, "We are keeping the documents that we scan secure. We do that through Marquis ID Systems of Fort Wayne, Ind. They are the vendors that won the bid to do this new system. So they're keeping the information secure on their system and they have all of the appropriate firewalls in place per the Real ID specifications."
The DMV paid Marquis $508,737 last year and has paid the company $468,497 so far this year, according to state Auditor Glen Gainer's online vendor payment database.
Reach George Hohmann at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.