Permian Basin 2017

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PERMIAN BASIN: TECHNOLOGY 44 | November 2017 | Shipping sand to West Texas from Wisconsin might seem like a joke looking for a punchline. In semi-arid Winkler, Ward and Crane counties, Texas, crews on occasion clear sand after it blows and settles over roadways paved across a 200-mile-long set of Holocene dunes. The fine 100-mesh sand might make for a good boogie board ride at nearby Monahans State Park, but the monocrystalline silica grains weren't considered up to spec for fracturing Permian Basin formations 2 miles below. For much of the hydraulic fracturing era, standard operating procedure has been to ship in better-grade proppant, such as high-grade Northern White Cambrian sand from Wisconsin. And that still is the case. But just as produced water is no longer considered a sub- par frack fluid, West Texas sand is now considered "good enough" for many frack programs. As laterals are extended and frack water volumes increased, the appetite for sand has grown, too. The experiments have been run with the local aeolian silica, and it is official. West Texas nuisance sand is now a hot commodity. Three sand mining companies have announced their intentions to open mines with annual production of at least 3 million tons per year each. The first out of the block, this past July 31, is Hi-Crush, also purveyors of that venerated Northern White variety. "It is exciting for our team in Kermit to be selling the first in-basin frack sand," said Duane Scardino, Hi-Crush corporate development manager. "Importantly, we've been working around significant hurdles. That includes access to water, roads and avoiding wildlife habitat considerations." At $55 million, the mine is a significant capital investment. It is well situated, with a reported 1,500 well permits filed within 75 miles of the mine since the beginning of 2017. Processing is relatively simple. "There's a wet plant where we wash away impurities, clays and minerals after excavation," Scardino said. "In the dry plant, washed sand is put through screening equipment where we sort the different sand sizes. The vast majority is fine 100 mesh, which is in high demand. We also have some 40/70 mesh. It has good sphericity and meets all the crush- strength requirements. And there is not as much processing as in Wisconsin because there's primarily one size of sand instead of four." In addition to traditional customers such as the large service and pumping companies, Scardino says exploration and production companies such as Pioneer and EOG are also customers. "The operators in the area are trying to get their hands on as much fine mesh sand as they can," he said. The shear volumes of sand needed to fracture an unconventional formation well create a logistical challenge. "A truckload holds 25 tons," Scardino said. "A typical well will use around 5,500 tons. So, math majors, you are hauling 11 million pounds of sand in roughly 220 truckloads. Unless you have 220 trucks, you can count on lots of round trips. That's why Hi-Crush has created a unique containerized twist on sand hauling. The more basic method of unloading sand uses pneumatic hoses. Besides creating plumes of airborne fugitive dust and sand (think silicosis), the process is noisy—and slow. "With the pneumatic, to blow off the trailer you'll have a 20- to 45-minute unload time per truck," Scardino said. "The driver New Permian Basin Sand Facility Hi-Crush opened the Permian Basin's first in-basin sand mine in July outside of Kermit, Texas, supplying 100 mesh sand for hydraulic fracturing operations. (Photo courtesy of Hi-Crush)

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