ND geologists seek local sand source for fracking

BISMARCK (AP) — North Dakota geologists are attempting to locate local sources of sand to be used for hydraulic fracturing as the oil industry demand grows.
The North Dakota Geological Survey is collecting sandstone samples from Billings and McKenzie counties this year, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
The agency had already collected samples in other areas and authored a 2011 study that found the state’s sand sources are lower in quality than other U.S. sources. This second phase of research comes as demand for sand increases and companies experiment with lower-cost options.
Companies are now accepting sands that they wouldn’t have accepted between 10 and 15 years ago, according to Monte Besler, who owns FRACN8R Consulting in Williston.
“We’re trying to test and characterize our sand resource so that industry can decide whether or not we have a usable alternative,” said Fred Anderson, a geologist with the state survey agency.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into underground formations for oil and gas extraction. Sand, or proppant, is used to “prop open” the fractures in the rock created through the fracking process, which allows the oil to flow from the rock formation into the wellbore.
Preferred sand for fracking is spherical and close to pure quartz, similar to the Northern white sand that’s shipped to the Bakken from Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. North Dakota’s sand contains quartz, but it’s more mixed than pure, according to Anderson.
Anderson said it’s possible that the state’s sand could be processed to get it closer to the desired sand characteristics.
North Dakota operators want to find a local sand source to save on transportation costs instead of importing by rail, said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council.
“This would be absolutely another game-changer for the Bakken,” Ness said.