Sand miners have invested huge amounts in production in the
Permian Basin formation in the United States, but 40/70 mesh
frac sand from the southern state of Texas still has to prove
itself in down-well applications.
The frac sand markets in the US are gearing up for what is
expected to be a massive shift in supply this year, when a huge
volume of sand capacity opens up in Texas.
More than 40 million tonnes per year of new sand production
is planned to come online in Texas by the end of 2018. This
volume is more than half of the estimated total demand in 2017,
and will create stiff competition for miners in the US Midwest
state of Wisconsin.
Rail companies are already warning of the potential effect of
this shift in supply on their profit margins.
But although the nameplate capacity of these planned mines
looks daunting for prices, it is not yet clear whether the
supplies will prove competitive in the growing frac sand
market. This is particularly so for larger mesh grades, with
one observer saying it could be six months or more until the
viability of 40/70 mesh material is proven.
Shift to the Permian
Texas sand is generally of lower crush strength, and lower
roundness and sphericity, than the Northern White sand found in
The ideal frac sand is considered to be very smooth and
spherical, because this gives the greatest space between grains
to allow hydrocarbons to escape. High strength ensures that the
sand is not deformed by the high pressure in the shale
But frackers in the Permian Basin in Texas are increasingly
reporting that the best results come from using as great a
volume of sand in wells as possible, with sand quality only a
And the number of wells is also booming. In the latest rig
count data from information supplier Baker Hughes, released on
Friday February 2, the number of active drilling rigs in the
Permian was reported at 427, the highest number seen for more
than three years, and this is driving up the demand for
This drive to increased sand intensity, while keeping costs
down, is fueling the shift toward sand produced near the wells,
to reduce shipping costs.
And for Texas frackers, that means the use of sand mined
inside the Permian Basin, from where it can be quickly and
cheaply delivered to the well head.
This increase in Texan production threatens demand for
Northern White sand, mined in Wisconsin and Minnesota, which
has until now been the preferred grade.
"It suits everyone," a sand miner told Industrial Minerals in
January. "We sell for more at the mine [and] they are paying
Time will tell
But this shift in supply will not come instantly, according
to Taylor Robinson, president of logistics specialist PLG
"Demand for Northern White will remain strong through the
first half of the year," he said. "Local Permian mines [in
Texas] are still in the early stages, either ramping up or not
Robinson added that the local mines being developed in other
shale basins will not have any substantial effects until
And even when the Permian mines come online, it is currently
unclear just how much Northern White demand can be replaced,
particularly with larger mesh size sand, where crush strength
is more critical.
"Most of the industry says that the Permian 100 mesh is
going to replace the imported 100 mesh. 100 mesh supply will
quickly move to the south [of the US]," Robinson said.
"The question is the Permian 40/70… will it work in
the deeper wells, especially in the Delaware Basin?" he
warned. "They’re testing that now.
It’s going to take six to nine months before the
initial trial results are known."