West Texas Sand: A New Source for Raw Frac Sand
Recent demand for proppants has surged, driven by the combination of a recovering oil and gas industry and increased the volume of proppants used per well. As a result, prices are expected to climb for proppants, making transportation costs, which can be substantial for a commodity level product, a big factor in product decisions. West Texas sand development will help calm some of the worries of the cost of sand. Three major sand suppliers have made significant investments in the region’s sand resources, hoping to make them available to the most heavily drilled area in the US, the Permian Basin. Hi-Crush, Unimin, and US Silica have made recent investments to expand production of the newly discovered sand in West Texas.
Key Findings in the Proppants Market in North America Study:
Completion Activity Continues to Recover
In 2014, the benchmark price for oil collapsed due to the global oil glut. Drilling and completion activity throughout North America declined, with 2016 activity falling to a quarter of 2014 levels. However, prices have started to trend in an upward direction, aided by a motivated OPEC, who has restrained production, in member and agreeing non-member states, to stimulate price growth. Increased prices have allowed operators to have a modest return to exploration and development in oil and gas plays, focusing on the most economical regions. Completion activity is expected to continue to grow through 2021, although it is not expected to approach pre-price crash levels. Additionally, improved efficiencies and technology have allowed some additional completion activity, shifting the breakeven costs in the favor of drillers.
Proppant Loadings Are Increasing
The volume and density of proppants used in hydraulic fracturing continue to rise. Drillers are pumping more sand and other proppants into the wellbore to increase the initial and total production of oil and gas they can yield from a low permeability rock layer. Coupled with the improvements in unconventional technology, many of which require more proppant, these efforts point toward one eventuality -- more proppant. Wells are now seeing, on average, 10 million pounds per unconventional well. The infrastructure required to deliver that amount of material puts its size in perspective; on average, ten million pounds of sand takes 100 rail cars and 400 trucks to deliver.
Unconventional Technology Drives Proppant Demand
Operators and drilling service companies have improved their techniques for hydraulic fracturing unconventional resources. Wells are now being drilled with longer laterals, more frac stages, and more frac clusters. Today’s well laterals can reach well over 10,000 feet and have over 100 stages. Additionally, with the increased use of multilateral wells and multi-well pads, today’s wells (and pads) need more proppant to fracture them completely. While it is assumed this trend of pushing well complexity will plateau, either from too much additional cost or due to diminishing returns, it does not appear to have occurred quite yet.
Raw Frac Sand is Taking Over
Raw frac sand continues to gain market share from competing proppants, like resin coated sand, ceramic proppants, and other specialty proppants. The low benchmark price environment has pushed operators and oilfield service companies to seek the cheapest proppants available, especially given the increased volumes. Raw frac sand is by far the most economical solution. In addition, the sand mined in the US, especially Northern White sand, is high quality, displaying strong enough characteristics to prop most well conditions in the US. The crush strength and roundness/sphericity allow US frac sand to be a highly conductive option for drillers and completion crews.
This study presents historical data (2006, 2011, and 2016) and forecasts (2021) by type (raw frac sand, resin coated sand, ceramic proppants) and location (Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Dakota, Louisiana, New Mexico, Alberta) in pounds and US dollars. The study also evaluates key industry players in the proppants market.