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Combining advanced Siemens level measurement with digital oilfield solutions provides transparency into well site operations

23 August 2018

Every Grain Counts

Fracturing sand (i.e., frac sand or proppant) is a key component used in hydraulic fracturing operations that facilitates production by keeping fractures open so that oil and/or natural gas can flow freely from the formation into the casing and
up to the surface.

Over the past decade, the explosion of unconventional resource development in the US, coupled with the implementation of larger pads and longer multi-laterals, has resulted in a significant increase in the demand for fracturing sand nationwide. In 2017, for instance, the Permian Basin saw a two-fold increase in sand usage compared to 2016 and it is predicted that figure will double again through 2018.1 Similarly, in the mid-continental region, the average amount of sand being used per well has increased by nearly 30% over the past year.

As is the case with any commodity, growth in demand for frac sand over the past decade has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in price. In fact, just prior to the industry-wide downturn, it was not uncommon for proppant to represent more than 20% of drilling costs. With crude prices at more than US$100/bbl, this was palatable. However, as oil prices declined, producers in West Texas could no longer justify the expense of hauling in sand from places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois and they began taking a hard look at how they could improve processes to become more efficient.

This resulted in a wave of investments aimed at moving sand processing infrastructure closer to shale plays, which drove down costs by effectively eliminating long-haul transport from the equation. And while it has been successful in helping Permian producers remain profitable amid the low price environment, it has also introduced new challenges that necessitate advanced measurement solutions and digital oilfield capabilities.

Pushing the envelope for efficiency

The feasibility of utilising native Texas sand for fraccing instead of costly white sands from mid-western states, coupled with the reduction of transport costs and improved fracturing technologies is bringing stability to the US oil industry. However, the need to improve e iciencies and drive out costs has not diminished.

The situation in the Permian Basin, as it pertains to frac sand level inventory monitoring, is similar to what was seen in the Bakken with crude oil level inventory monitoring five years ago. Leading up to the downturn, when prices exceeded US$100/bbl, many operators in the Bakken were so busy producing that monitoring the level and interface of oil and water in produced water tanks was not immediately addressed. It was not until production began to slow down that accountability for residual crude oil in water disposal tanks became more relevant and interface and level measurement technologies were implemented.

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