What is Proppant?

Learning about the silica sand industry, and the process of fracking.

Proppant, in its use as part of the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is hailed as one of the most impactful oilfield innovations of the 21st century, despite the fact it has been used since the notion of modern fracking was developed nearly 70 years ago.

This is because specific technological advances made over the past 30 years have truly revolutionized the industry. By combining better drilling techniques with ultrasophisticated frack designs, today’s proppant solutions help improve the production capacity of wells, delivering more oil and natural gas, day in and day out.

To understand what proppant is, and its role in the business of petroleum production, one must understand the basic process of fracking:

Fracking

To understand what proppant is, and its role in the business of petroleum production, one must understand the basic process of fracking:

Fracking, hydraulic fracturing or hydrofracking, is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at the rock to release the gas inside. This type of drilling has been used commercially over a half a century and involves Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well.

The well is drilled laterally for about 3,000 to 5,000 feet. This creates a large enough surface area for oil or gas to flow in economic quantities. Cement is then pumped through the hole to surround the casing. Water, sand and lubricant are then pumped into the well at a very high pressure. The high-pressure fluid creates additional smaller fractures or channels in the shale through which oil and natural gas reserves flow more easily. The pressure is released and the proppants (sand) are left lodged into the fractures, providing an efficient conduit for the movement of fluid from the reservoir to the wellbore, allowing an efficient escape for crude oil or natural gas flow. Most wells are able to produce for 20 to 30 years without the requirement of additional fracturing.

What is Frac Sand?

“Frac sand” is high-purity quartz sand with very durable and very round grains.

It is a crush-resistant material produced for use by the petroleum industry. It is used in the hydraulic fracturing process (known as “fracking”) to produce petroleum fluids, such as oil, natural gas and natural gas liquids from rock units that lack adequate pore space for these fluids to flow to a well. Most frac sand is a natural material made from high purity sandstone. An alternative product is ceramic beads made from sintered bauxite or small metal beads made from aluminum.

The demand for frac sand has exploded in the past several years as thousands of oil and natural gas wells are being stimulated using the hydraulic fracturing process. A hydraulic fracturing job on one well can require a few thousand tons of sand. This surge of specialized drilling has created a billion dollar frac sand industry in a very short time. Between 2009 and 2012 the amount of frac sand used by the oil and gas industry has tripled.

Frac Sand Mineralogy: Frac sand must be greater than 98% quartz to be suitable for use as a proppant.

Frac Sand Specifications: Roundness, highly spherical, high crush resistance, silicon dioxide content, and consistent size are all important factors relating to high-quality frac sand.

To have high fluid porosity and permeability, frac sand must be well sorted to be effective when applied. Depending on the application, different frac sand mesh size ranges are required. 20/40 are typically used in hydraulic fracturing processes targeting oil and liquids-rich gas recovery (i.e. larger fluid molecules) whereas finer sand grains (such as 40/70 and higher meshes) are typically used primarily in dry gas applications (i.e., smaller fluid molecules).

Industry

All about the silica sand industry.

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