Saturday, July 6, 2019

"Inside the deadly world of India’s sand mining mafia"

Sand, more interesting than one might suspect.

From National Geographic:

India ranks second after China in its use of construction sand, a dwindling and increasingly valuable resource.
“You must be journalists? Are you interested in sand mining?”
We are in trouble.
It is the local muscle. There are four of them. Thick-armed, hooded-eyed men who have braked their white SUV to interrogate my walking partner, Siddharth Agarwal, and me at a dhaba, a roadside eatery in northern India. Our plastic table quakes from the passage of heavy trucks. What do these columns of vehicles carry? A torrent of mined sand: the dredged-up riverbeds of the Sindh River and its tributaries in destitute Madhya Pradesh state. Every truckload is bound for distant construction sites. Much of the cargo is illegal.
Sand is a lucrative commodity in India. It fuels a black market that is both preyed on and protected by goons. Sand miners have killed law enforcement officers who have attempted to halt the strip-mining of India’s rivers. They have murdered reporters who have exposed the forbidden practice of excavating waterways. Agarwal and I exchange glances.
“We’re looking for journalists to help us,” one of the burly men says over the growl of the traffic.
“Yes. The other guys down the road are extorting too much from the trucks,” he tells us. “They leave us little money. We have documents to prove it. It’s not fair. We want to go to the media.”
India. Here, everyone owns a grievance—even the sand mafia.

Sand might seem a strange contraband to most of the world. The lowly resource is little more than ground-up rocks, tiny grains of silica and quartz washed down rivers from eroding mountaintops. Illegally mined sand does not conjure the dark romance of, say, blood diamonds, or the pathos of trafficked wildlife. Moreover, there appears to be an infinite supply of the stuff. Only there isn’t. (Watch Paul Salopek's video of scenes from two rivers now being mined for sand in India—the Betwa, in Uttar Pradesh, and the Sone, in Bihar.) 

Our modern civilization is built on sand: concrete, paved roads, ceramics, metallurgy, petroleum fracking—even the glass on smart phones—all require the humble substance. River sand is best: grains of desert sand are often too rounded to serve as industrial binding agents, and marine sand is corrosive. A United Nations study calculates, however, that humankind’s total consumption of sand—more than 40 billion tons a year—is now double the amount of sediments being replenished naturally on the Earth by the sum of the world’s rivers.
Today, sand has become so valuable that it is shipped enormous distances: Australia sends boatloads of sand to Arabia for land reclamation projects. China, the world’s builder, is also the planet’s sand glutton. Between 2011 and 2014 alone, the Chinese poured more concrete—made up largely of sand—than the United States used during the whole of the 20th century. With its exploding megacities, India ranks second in the world’s sand consumption....MUCH MORE
The line Yes. The other guys down the road are extorting too much from the trucks,” is remarkably similar to FT Alphaville  reporter Jemima Kelly's story of the mobsters on the Baltic, to which we linked in "Amber's Allure: Outtakes and Blooper Reel", although I'm not certain the northerners said "We're looking for journalists to help us..."

Oops, that may be the wrong link. If so we also have on offer "The Russian Gangsta With A Heart of...ahh...Amber"

Previously in our silica series:
"A World Built on Sand and Oil"

The World Is Running Out of Sand (Elon Musk to the rescue!)

Commodities: The Next Big Thing Is Sand
....The link that starts this piece goes to Sand Wars: Beijing’s Hidden Ambition in the South China Sea a 22 page PDF, hosted at the College of William & Mary.

No to my secret shame. After the jump to the Bloomberg sand article my commentary continued:

We were on the story from the publicly traded get-go (almost), going back to April 2012's "What the Frack? U.S. Silica Up 24% since Feb. 1 IPO (SLCA)". Followed by "Commodities: "Midwest Sees a Sand Rush"". In 2013 growth was so good that a little Ouroboros turnabout was fair play, "More Natural Gas Needed For Frack Sand Suppliers"

By 2014 they were fine, strapping businesses:
"Sand: The Hot New Investment Opportunity" (SLCA)
State of Sand, 2014 
What the Frac: "The Past Year’s Hottest IPO Is… " (EMES; SLCA)

From MoneyBeat:
The hottest initial public offering from 2013 isn’t a cloud technology stock, or a biotech company with a promising cancer drug.

The company behind the top-performing IPO in the past 18 months digs sand.

Through Friday, sand-mining company Emerge Energy Services LP has rallied 462% since its debut on May 8, 2013, for the biggest share-price gain since its IPO among companies that went public last year, according to Dealogic....
Having concluded that oil and gas were just a passing fad, this is what we were posting the month Emerge came public:
The Internet of Things: Huggies App Sends You a Tweet Whenever Your Kid Pees...
The Ethics of Torturing Robots
British Psychologists Bashing British Psychiatrists
Shaman               Witch Doctor
Psychologist            Psychiatrist
I so wish I were kidding.
By January of this year we knew it was ending:
What the Frack: "Good Times Run Out for Sand Producers"
with, maybe a bit of forced jollity in March:
Basic Materials: What's New In the Sand Business? (SLCA; EMES)
But there was nothing new, it's sand.