The practice of hydraulic fracturing has rightly received a lot of the credit for allowing the U.S. to boost its oil production in recent years by as much as 60%. The U.S. is now producing more oil than it has in decades and the boom is expected to continue.
But in order to fracture a well, there is one key ingredient needed: sand. Also called “frac-sand” or more officially known as “proppant,” sand is vital to opening up shale to allow oil and gas to escape.
Here is how it works. When oil and gas companies conduct a fracking job, they send a mix of water, sand, and proprietary chemical cocktails down a well. The extraordinary pressure at which they inject the mixture fractures shale rock, and the frac-sand props open the fissures. With cracks kept open by frac-sand, oil and gas flow out from shale rock and into the well.
Frac-sand often comes from high-purity quartz and is crush resistant, allowing it stay intact while shale rock fractures. A single frac job can require several thousand tons of sand. But oil and gas companies have found that by increasing the volume of sand in the fracturing process, they can increase output, often by as much as 30%. The number of shale wells using that extra burst of sand stands at just 20%, but may rise to 80% according to RBC Capital Markets.
All of this is creating a run on frac-sand, which has turned into a booming industry virtually overnight (see chart).
Prices have climbed…