The immense task of moving proppant from the mine to the blender is a significant portion of total frac job cost – a cost that is multiplied by the growing volumes of sand used in each hydraulic fracturing treatment. Controlling costs increasingly demands a comprehensive, integrated approach to the entire proppant logistics process.
Understanding and managing costs starts at the mine with a low-cost, sustainable resource. Whether the mine is remote or in-basin, strategic transportation by rail or truck is vital to efficiently handling large volumes of sand. Over the last mile, flexible, efficient wellsite delivery, storage, and supply to the blender depend on specialized equipment and software. Reducing proppant cost requires intelligent control of each step in the process.
Lowering total proppant cost begins with a good mine. Mine quality depends first on high-quality frac sand that meets strict industry standards and specifications. However, economical sand deposits must also be large enough to assure a long-term supply, near the surface where they can be mined easily, and close to transportation.
Regional mines, such as those in the upper Midwest, are often distant from the oil and gas activity. They typically move processed sand by rail to strategically located transload facilities where it is loaded on wellsite-bound trucks. Efficiently moving the large sand volumes requires special facilities to handle long unit trains of 100 or more cars.
In-basin mines eliminate the rail by loading sand directly to trucks. In the Permian Basin, which accounted for about 50% of market demand in 2018, industry experts estimate that new in-basin mines may cut transportation costs by 40%.
The “last mile” from the transload facility or in-basin mine to the wellsite is a tough haul. Optimizing efficiency and assuring safety at this critical stage has evolved to utilizing highly specialized logistics that integrate unique fleets of equipment and versatile software.
Because sand volumes and wellsites vary greatly, flexibility is vital to improving efficiency that lowers total proppant cost. Container- and silo-based systems allow last mile logistics to be tailored to job specifics, from the volume of sand to road and wellsite conditions.
Containers provide both transport and wellsite storage and are favored for small volumes, single-well pads, and challenging road conditions. Silos provide portable, high volume vertical storage needed for multi-well pad operations. Each dramatically reduces OSHA-regulated silica dust emissions with gravity-fed operations and self-contained conveyor systems. Efficiency enhancements include faster sand delivery and reduced wellsite traffic congestion.
Containers allow rapid, precise delivery of sand directly to the frac spread blender via a built-for-purpose conveyer system. High volume silos are quickly top-loaded by articulated, camera-guided conveyors fed by hopper-bottom trucks. During the frac job, a specialized conveyor system smoothly changes between multiple silos to deliver sand the blender.
Last mile software helps coordinate and manage the complex process. Web-based and mobile-app software links operators, service companies, sand suppliers, and others with real-time and long-term capabilities to create operational efficiencies that reduce costs.
Intelligent control of each step in the mine, move and manage process integrates logistics and yields the state-of-the-art facilities, equipment, and technology required to lower total proppant cost.