Need for silica sand continues to grow
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. -- Silica sand is an integral component to a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which pumps the sand, water and chemicals into oil and gas wells to scour out openings in oil- or gas-bearing rock.
Although silica sand mines have only become an increasingly hot topic in Goodhue County and surrounding Minnesota counties during the past couple of years, the resource has been mined throughout the United States for decades. Fracking, too, has been around for years.
"This is not a brand new technology. This is a 60-plus-year-old technology," explained Stephen Brand, a Minnesota native and former senior vice president of technology for Conoco Phillips.
Brand spoke in front of a crowd of about 300 people Monday as he presented the keynote speech during the opening banquet of a three-day conference about the silica sand resources of Minnesota and Wisconsin. His talk centered on unconventional resources and the technological drivers behind the domestic boom in oil and gas exploration.
"I can remember growing up and playing in the sand -- it was probably the St. Peter sandstone. And I never thought about it having anything to do with the oil and gas industry," Brand said.
Years later, he's widely familiar with the relationship between the two. The need for silica sand is increasing as the oil and gas industry booms domestically.
Some of the technological drivers behind the growth are reduced stimulation costs, more environmentally friendly fracturing fluids and overall mitigation of traffic, noise and aesthetic impacts, Brand said.
Still, it's too early to determine the impact of new technologies, he added.
"We're on the learning curve. We're still learning," Brand said.
By continuing to improve technology in the future, Brand said he hopes to see increased well productivity at lower costs and better management of risks and environmental impacts.
"We need to focus on the technology and how to use it, when to use it and what to use," he said.
Brand was one of more than 15 people who addressed conference attendees during the past two days at the Earle Brown Heritage Center. Tuesday's speakers discussed everything from the uses of silica sand to mining techniques to the permitting and regulation of operations in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The conference concludes today, taking people away from the heritage center and out into nearby communities to see silica sand operations. Groups will visit mines and processing plants operated by Great Northern Sand, EOG Resources and Preferred Sands in New Auburn, Chippewa Falls and Blair, Wis.