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.