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Insights across the energy value chain

I was perusing Murray Roth’s recent presentation “Unconventional Oil and Gas: Implications for Global Field Development” and it made a pretty bold statement that I figured was worthy of discussion all on its own.

What is the greatest driver of oilfield innovation and value in the 21st Century?

Sand.

Without sand, or more generally proppant, there is no hydraulic fracturing, without hydraulic fracturing there is no opening of tight oil and gas plays, there is no economic advantage to horizontal drilling, there is no rise of pad drilling.

What is proppant?

Proppant is “sand or similar particulate material suspended in water or other fluid and used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to keep fissures open.” (from Wiktionary)

Fissures_Proppant

A brief history of sand

Although hydraulic fracturing was first performed in 1947 (in Kansas, using sand from the Arkansas river), wide-spread experimentation didn’t occur until the Barnett Shale play in the 80s, and usage has exploded in the first decade of this century.

Initially, proppant was simply sand, but over time other materials have been incorporated. There are resin-coated sands, ceramic-coated sands, and now we have proppant composed of sintered (powdered) bauxite – tiny manufactured rocks!

Proppant_Types
Source: http://images.sdsmt.edu/learn/speakerpresentations/Kullman.pdf

Properties of proper proppant

By integrating these other materials into the proppant we are able to vary some key properties:

  • Size – the physical size of the proppant needs to be adjustable per the condition of the rock. Typically measured between 8 and 140 mesh (106 µm – 2.36 mm).
  • Geometry – in some cases the shape of the proppant needs to be adjusted.
  • Weight – largely depending on the depth of the frac the density of the proppant will need to be adjusted.

By adjusting these properties we can create the optimum pathways for the extraction of hydrocarbons. Some important measured qualities of proppant are:

  • Conductivity – basically the amount of flow that the proppant will allow.
  • Crush Resistance – deeper wells and varied lithologies require different stress properties.
  • Acid Solubility – tests of solubility in acid can indicate contaminants, and let you know how the proppant is likely to perform underground.

How much will that sand cost me?

Downholetrader.com has a variety of fracking sands up for trade; all pretty much at least a couple of pennies per pound. This week, 20/40 Mesh Finished Black Gold Sand with a 7k crush in North Dakota is going for $.13/lb.!

Proppant_Costs
Source: http://downholetrader.com/#2040

How much will I need?

A lot. The first experiments in the 1940s used around 150 pounds of sand, but now it’s around 5 million pounds per well.

How_Much_Proppant

So, if you are in the Eagle Ford and are looking for a 20/40 mesh and your buddies are all speaking highly of “Antioch Sand” you can expect to spend $.056 * 5,000,000 = $280,000 on sand! And that means the proppant industry is definitely up and to the right – 57 billion lbs in 2012 = $BIG!

Proppant_Sand_Usage
Source: http://www.cadreproppants.com/files/shaletech_cadreproppants_new.pdf

Also, notice the market is 80% sand with the other 20 percent split between resin coating and ceramics.

That’s great, but what should I use for my well?

I am not really qualified to tell you that, but I will say that I have been learning a lot about how proppants are being used in the field by looking at fracfocus.org.

Proppant_Frac_Focus
Source: FracFocus.org

The elephant in the room

Logistics. These are huge quantities of sand that need to be shipped to your well site when you’re ready for them – you don’t have room to store them, and can’t risk contamination. And even if it’s just across Texas, distances can be quite long.

791_Miles_from_Texas
Source http://www.neatorama.com/2014/04/04/Map-Areas-within-a-Texas-Length-Distance-from-Texas/#!Enj7D

Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking about proppant business, you need to know where the rigs are, because as the rigs move, so will the proppant trucks soon thereafter.

If you decide to go on a field trip and visit one of your favorite operators to see how they are using proppant, you can save valuable windshield time with the brand new Rigs Mobile app for the iPhone.

Your Turn

What do you think? What types of proppant are you seeing in your operations? Leave a comment below.

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Eric Roach

Eric Roach is the editor of Drillinginfo's blog, which was selected as the Top Oil & Gas Industry Blog based on visibility, engagement and relevance. He also prepares a weekly newsletter of top industry news for blog subscribers, and would be grateful if you would subscribe and tell your friends. (There's a box on the upper right of the page where you can subscribe).