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Frac sand derives its name from its application in hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as "fracking." This method is employed by oil and natural gas companies to extract resources like natural gas, natural gas liquids, and oil from unconventional, low permeability reservoirs such as shale. Notable basins with substantial demand for frac sand include the Permian Basin, Eagle Ford Shale, the Mid-Continent, Bakken Shale, Marcellus Shale, Utica Shale, and Haynesville Shale.
Let's delve into a brief overview of frac sand and its significance within the oil and gas industry.
Frac sand is a naturally occurring sand composed of crystalline silica (quartz), which undergoes processing from high-purity sandstone. In terms of composition, frac sand only slightly differs from other types of sand, as quartz silica grains are a prevalent element in most inter-coastal sands. The distinguishing factor lies in the fact that other types of sand consist of various minerals and rock types, which are less robust compared to quartz.
Frac sand grains exhibit exceptional resistance to crushing, along with a distinct round granule shape. These properties make them highly suitable for use in the fracking process.
Hydraulic fracturing, in one form or another, has been practiced since 1949. The modern-day technique gained significant traction in the 1990s, thanks to advancements in horizontal drilling technology that unlocked vast shale reserves located thousands of feet beneath the Earth's surface.
Shale, a sedimentary rock primarily composed of pressurized mud with numerous minuscule pores, contains trapped reserves of oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids. Fracking has emerged as an effective solution to accessing these hydrocarbons since its initial utilization in the Barnett Shale of North Texas in conjunction with horizontal drilling.
The drilling and completion process involves the following steps:
A drilling rig digs vertically for several thousand feet before making a 90-degree turn to drill horizontally through a layer of shale, creating a wellbore.
Small perforations are created along the horizontal section of the wellbore, allowing hydrocarbons to enter the wellbore.
A pressurized mixture of water, frac sand, and chemicals is injected into the well, fracturing the shale layer and releasing petroleum liquids. These liquids then ascend through the wellbore for collection.
Frac sand assumes a crucial role in the fracturing process by keeping the shale fractures open, enabling the release of natural gas, oil, and natural gas liquids from the rock's pores. When high-pressure water streams enlarge the small perforations into fractures, frac sand helps to sustain the fractures' openness, facilitating the continuous flow of fossil fuels. Any substance, whether natural or synthetic, used to keep these fractures propped open is referred to as a "proppant."
It is imperative for the proppant to possess exceptional durability and resistance to crushing. The longer the proppant withstands the immense pressure exerted by the fractures, the greater the extraction of petroleum, optimizing well efficiency.
The rise in oil prices has led to increased activity in shale basins across the United States. Consequently, the demand for frac sand is expected to escalate, projected to reach 115 million tons in 2019, up from 82 million tons in 2017.
The demand for locally-sourced frac sand has witnessed substantial growth as well. When oil prices plummeted in mid-2014, production companies in the United States actively sought new, cost-effective methods of oil extraction. This pursuit of innovation resulted in the adoption of in-basin sand, which significantly reduces shipping expenses. Shipping
expenses can account for up to 65 percent of frac sand costs. Utilizing in-basin sand has emerged as a cost-saving measure, driving the search for new sources of sand closer to the shale basins. Estimates indicate that employing in-basin sand can reduce the overall drilling and completion costs by 5 to 10 percent.
Leading the charge for in-basin sand are producers in the Permian Basin, motivated by the economic advantages and simplified logistics it offers. The potential cost savings for Permian producers alone are estimated at $500,000 per well, amounting to a staggering $3.5 billion in annual savings across the entire basin.
In 2017, approximately 50 billion pounds of frac sand were used in the Permian Basin, double the amount used in 2016 and four times the quantity utilized in 2014. The demand is expected to continue rising, with an estimated usage of 119 billion pounds by 2022. By that time, the Permian Basin alone is projected to account for 40 percent of the total sand consumption in all shale plays throughout the United States.
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Quick facts – advantages of Frac Sand