PART IV: SAND HANDLING
There are hundreds of drilling rigs active in the U.S. and almost every one of those is making ready for thousands of tons of sand to be pumped downhole shortly after the drill bit comes out. We want to make sure our frac sand supplies are ready and waiting to be pumped downhole to maximize oil and gas flow.
Here is how we keep that supply sorted and at the ready.
From Mine to Storage
In previous blogs we’ve discussed how we wash out the unwanted material such as dirt and rocks (material that’s either too small, too large or for any reason not usable for fracking) before moving the product to an area to dry (also known as decanting).
After it has dried for a while, we test the sand in each decant area for moisture content. Once we determine which one is the driest, two huge Caterpillar 980M front loaders are unleashed on that stock to move the sand to one of two driers before sorting. These Cats operate 24/7 to keep the product flowing.
Between 280 and 300 tons per hour emerge from the driers, having been heated to a blazing 200˚F to boil out every drop of moisture. From the driers the sand travels by conveyor to a feed bin, onto another conveyor and into a Rotex for sorting.
The Rotex is a shaker screen with certain sizes of mesh. This separates the grains into the 40-70 and 100 mesh specs ordered by frac companies.
Unusable sand goes one way and frac sand goes the other, advancing through the system. The word “unusable” only applies to frac sand purposes. We have other customers who need exactly this product for leveling soccer fields or preparing construction sites and other uses. To those customers, it’s very important material and we’re happy they can use it.
The sorted sand is sampled and sent to quality control for size verification, then it goes into our storage silos, each one holding a particular mesh size. Test results go to plant personnel for internal use and to the sales department so customers can verify they’re getting the exact sand they ordered.
Each silo is designed to hold 3,000 tons, but for safety reasons we only fill them a little more than 90 percent full.
Now the sand is ready to be loaded onto trucks for the trip to the frac site.
The loading operation is largely gravity-fed. The product goes in the top and comes out at the bottom. We have compressors that pressure up the system that opens and closes the unloading gates.
As each truck gets into position, loaders at a kiosk put the delivery spout into position over the transport—either a pneumatic tank or a sandbox. Take a look as we load sand here:
We track each truck by giving the driver a barcoded card which he keeps, presenting the card for scanning into our system at each stage along the process. If they have the same truck each time, this card tells the person at the kiosk the name of the client and the purchase order for the type and amount of sand and the number of drops. A pneumatic truck takes two drops, one of 35,000 pounds and the second one of 10,000 pounds. A system of red and green lights like traffic signals tells the driver when, where and how long to stop for each part of the loading process.
When the loading is done, the system completes the ticket associated with the driver’s card. At the last stop the Black Mountain person scans the card again, signaling the system that the order is complete. It prints two copies of the ticket, one for the driver and one to be turned in when the truck unloads. The ticket, or bill of lading (BOL), is also saved in the computer.
Completing the Process
After pickup, our customers typically scan the Bill of Lading into their accounting system so they can match our records with their own each month. We also use the BOL data for planning our production. Right now, at our Bigfoot facility in Poteet, Texas, we’re producing 6,000 tons per day to meet ongoing orders.
The data also figures into our preventive maintenance planning. We regularly service all our equipment, taking it offline for a short time to prevent a longer-term breakdown.
But even if there were to be a worst-case scenario, we keep several days’ worth of inventory in stock to make sure the sand keeps flowing in exactly the way our customers need it.
One of the benefits of Black Mountain Sand’s in-basin sand is its predictability. When our customers need it, we have it. Our frac sand is produced on property 24/7 and is fed directly from the dryers into our silos for immediate deployment to the wellsite. From mine-gate to mine-gate the average truck load-in time is less than 10 minutes.
Next month, we’ll take a deeper look into our load-in system and how exactly we move customers in and out quickly and efficiently.
We Want To Hear From You!
Have questions? Comments? We’d love to hear from you! We want to get to know our neighbors, so please send us your questions on the form below. We’ll share your questions with our answers on social media each week! Follow our story: #InsideFracSand
This Month’s Contributors
Production Supervisor, Bigfoot Facility
Oskar works with our Operations team to ensure the safety and well being of all crews. He oversees the integrity of all equipment and mentors the teams to increase productivity and safety awareness. Oskar is an Army Veteran and has worked in Afghanistan and Iraq as Supervisor for Air Operations for 4 years as well as offshore for more than 5. He is father of twins Alexis and Andrea (11) and credits them and his wife, Yvette, for his strength and motivation.
Production Supervisor, Bigfoot Facility
Riggen also works with our Operations team to oversee production with Oskar. He comes from a construction background and is now concentrating on the mining industry to build his career as frac sand mining grows. He has worked at three of the Black Mountain Sand mines and has trained several crews in the startup process. While leading the team in best practices, he remains focused on putting the best product out into the market and striving for progress every day.