Hydraulic Fracturing Sand Resources

Hydraulic Fracturing Sand Resources

The United States produced 95 million metric tons of industrial sand in 2015, more than half of the global sand production. The world’s second largest producer, Italy, produced only 14 million tons in the same year. 71% of the US tonnage was used as hydraulic fracturing sand and well-packing and cementing sand. The largest US sand producers Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio, North Carolina, and Louisiana are fairly concentrated around the corridor from the Great Lakes region to Central Texas. It is estimated that the transportation cost share almost 31–46 percent of the final landed cost of hydraulic fracturing sand (Sider, 2014). Central Texas’ sand resources located in close proximity to the hydraulic fracturing sites in the Eagle Ford Basin, Permian Basin, and Barnett Basin present an opportunity of minimizing transportation costs, and therefore, the final cost of hydraulic fracturing. The opportunity is even more relevant now when oil producers are striving to reduce production costs. The Economic Minerals Program research on frac sands interfaces with the Bureau's Shale Research and CEE’s ongoing analysis and outlooks for upstream activity and benchmarking producer costs.

Frac sand resources

Weighted Overlay Analysis of the uppermost layer of sand in the Cambrian-Ordovician Rocks in the Central Texas Sand District area. Values range from 0 to 10, where 10 is the most favorable, and 0 is the least.

Research topics include:

  • Resource analysis
    • Geologic mapping of sand resources
    • Mapping geologic setting of the Hickory sandstone in the Llano Uplift
    • Quantifying sand reserve and overburden
    • Calculating the volume and tonnage of sand reserve, calculate overburden volume that will be removed to extract the resource, create an economic mineral resource model showing economics of increasing depth, expanding horizontally, and permitting costs and restrictions for mining below the ground water level and near ground water bodies
    • Mapping favorability for extraction
    • Mapping proximity to end users, transportation infrastructure, metropolitan areas, and other characteristics like resource quality and stripping ratio to build a combined map of new favorable mining sites in Texas
  • Application
    • Identifying favorable hydraulic fracturing sites
    • Mapping regions with basin closure stress within the range of Texas sand’s compressibility strength and explore other sand characteristic that make Texas sand suitable or unsuitable for use
    • Exploring the characteristics of blended Texas sand and Northern White Sand
    • Exploring the behavior of blended Texas sand with superior proppants like the Northern White Sand and synthetic proppants
  • Logistics and transportation economics
    • Evaluating favorable modes of transportation
    • Creating network datasets for all modes of transportation infrastructure in Texas, modeling costs of transportation, and calculating optimum routes using one or more modes of transportation
    • Identifying new infrastructure development opportunities
    • Calculating impact of new transport infrastructure like rail roads, highways, freight transfer stations etc. near mining sites and hydraulic fracturing sites to explore prospects and potential benefits for new infrastructure

Preliminary findings

A preliminary analysis of sand resources in Central Texas (Verma, 2016 Master's thesis) finds that the Llano Uplift has almost 24 billion tons of sand reserve above the ground water level, excluding the reserve held by all the current sand producers in the region. The study estimates that about 20 billion tons is deposited close to the surface and has close proximity to highways and railways (Elliott and others, 2016). The study finds that the cost of transportation for Texas sand to hydraulic fracturing sites in Texas can be as low as $16 per ton for highways and with regions with high transportation costs, a combination of railways and highways significantly reduces the overall costs.


Elliott, B. A., Verma, R., Kyle, J. R., 2016, Prospectivity modeling for Cambrian–Ordovician hydraulic fracturing sand resources around the Llano Uplift, Central Texas: Natural Resources Research, v. 25, p. 389–415. doi: 10.1007/s11053-016-9291-6

Kyle, J. R., McBride, E. F., 2014, Geology of the Voca frac sand district, western Llano Uplift, Texas, in Conway, F.M., ed., Proceedings, 48th Annual Forum on the Geology of Industrial Minerals: Arizona Geological Survey, Special Paper 9, Ch. 2, p. 1–13.

Sider, A., 2013, In fracking, sand is the new gold: The Wall Street Journal. [Link]

Verma, R., 2016, Hydraulic fracturing sand resource development in the Llano Uplift region, Central Texas: Resource calculation, favorability analysis, and transportation economics: Master's thesis, The University of Texas at Austin.

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