What is Fracking?
Fracking is a common, or slang term, for hydraulic fracturing. Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling into the earth to obtain energy rich natural gases from the shale rock below. First, a hole is drilled vertically. Once the shale layer is reached, the drilling is completed horizontally, or parallel with the shale rock layer. High pressured components (water, sand, and other chemical) are pumped in to create fractures in the rock which, in turn, release the natural gases from within.
What is Frac Sand Used For?
High quality Frac Sands must pass a crush test because of the high amounts of pressure it has to withstand. It is a quartz sand that is extremely pure and strong. The stronger the crush factor, the better the sand.
The durability and strength is measured in “K”. The highest quality and purest sands have a crush factor of 8K. The higher the purity and crush factor, the more expensive the product. There are a variety of characteristics that industries look for in high grade, high crush Frac Sand:
- It must be a high quality silica sand
- It must be the proper grain size for a hydraulic fracturing job (it ranges in size from 0.1mm to over 2mm)
- It should be spherical in shape
- It is able to resist the crushing forces of the surrounding shale rock.
How It Is Transferred
The stronger the sand grain is, the better it can stand up to the pressure of the fractures that are created. It is transferred down into the drilled well via a high pressured water pump. The pressure builds until the underlying shale layers fracture, and the fractures are filled with water and the Frac Sand granules.
Once the water pump is turned off, the fractures left behind remain propped open by Frac Sand granules. This is why it is called a “proppant“.
Frac Sand Plants
A Frac Sand plant produces the high quality proppant sand implemented during hydraulic fracturing. It is extremely high grade, fine, and exceptionally pure. It is within these plants that smooth, round sand particles are separated from contaminants. Impurities include anything from larger pieces of sand, rough sand granules, and ore contaminants.
Once the sand has been successfully mined and processed, it is sold to a hydraulic fracturing company or sent directly to the Hydraulic Fracturing site.
The Demand For Sand
As the fracking industry has grown, so has the demand for Frac Sand. Therefore, alternative ceramic and metal beads have begun to replace costly, high end sands. One frac job may require thousands of tons of sand. Today, most Frac Sand is mined from the South and Central United States. However, the high demand and popularity of hydraulic fracturing has led many companies to produce alternative, synthetic bauxite beads/proppants.