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The Frac Sand Explosion

There is quite a bit of industry buzz right now about “frac sand,” also known as proppant. The product is used in hydraulic fracturing, a process by which frac sand is combined with a viscous gel and forced down oil and gas wells at high pressure to prop open the fractures. Depending on the rock bed that is to be fractured, different pressures are used which form different size fractures. It is in these fractures in the rock bed that frac sand is used.

While the process of hydraulic fracturing is not new, an increased demand for oil and natural gas has driven energy companies to seek production increases by both stimulating older wells and drilling new ones.

The Marcellus Shale deposit, largely sourced in New York and Pennsylvania, is an example of a geologic formation where hydraulic fracturing is used to access natural gas deposits. There has also been quite a bit of environmental concern about the process of hydraulic fracturing, due to the chemical content of the gel that is mixed with the sand.

The sand that is used in the hydraulic fracturing procedure must be produced clean and free of debris, and it has to be a particular size. The manufacture of frac sand requires specialized equipment and production expertise, and more and more companies are looking into it as a way to add a new product line and increase profits. Frac sand sells at a premium price.

There are two specific types of sand used in the hydraulic fracturing process. Ontario sand is white and spherical, deposited after the last ice age by the glaciers. A yellow Texas sand found across the south has a more irregular shape.

Both types of frac sand are sold in bulk by size, according to TranZ, a bulk-transfer company. A common size is called 20/40. This is silica that is larger than 20 microns but smaller than 40 microns. Another size that has more variability is 40/140 frac sand.

Mississippi Sand, Festus, Mo., has constructed a state-of-the-art production facility to meet frac sand demand. Superior Silica Sands LLC, Southlake, Texas, in 2009 built a new processing plant in Kosse, Texas, to take advantage of the need for frac sand. US Silica produces the branded frac sand products Ottawa White and Shale Frac at its plants in South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois and Oklahoma.

Frac sand production is growing. Stay tuned to pages of Rock Products. We will be bringing you more information on frac sand in future issues.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor
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