True Grit with Preferred Sands

By Chris Hanson | April 22, 2013

With access to 320 million tons of sand, an annual 6-million-ton capacity and plants located in four states and Canada, Preferred Sands LLC is just one of the business leaders making the Bakken a success story.

For half a decade, owner-operated Preferred Sands has been sending its brand of frack sand to the Bakken oilfields from Wisconsin. Once mined, Preferred Sands’ frack sand is first sent to a wet plant for washing and rough sizing and then to a processing facility for finish sizing before being stored until shipping day. The most desired sands are those comprised of large, spherically shaped, pure quartz grains that will resist crushing in the frack process, CEO Michael O’Neill explains.

O’Neill says doing business in the Bakken area presents significant logistical challenges. He points out that embargoes can suspend sand shipments from reaching the destination and, inside the Bakken region, the lack of rail infrastructure, road and weight restrictions also present logistical issues. O’Neill says the most efficient method to ship frack sand to the Bakken is through rail. Preferred Sands has six, strategically located facilities to deliver the sand via trucks.

Preferred Sands is best known for its supply pipeline and resin-coated sand products and services, O’Neill says. The company's full-service distribution system for bulk proppant is available to a range of industry suppliers. Its goal is to minimize shipping costs in order to address a fractured supply chain that leads to inefficiencies and additional fees, he says. Through its supply pipeline, Preferred Sands distributes its products to every subbasin in the U.S. and Canada. The pipeline is served by more than 4,000 privately owned rail cars that are transported by Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Norfolk Southern, Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National railroad companies.

Preferred Sands’ resin-coated sands (RCS) product line, developed in conjunction with Dow Chemical, uses the first, nonphenolic, resin-coating technology designed for proppants used in hydraulic fracturing. Proppant is the industry term for the sand, gravel, or particles of other material suspended in drilling fluid during formation fracturing to keep (prop) open the cracks in the rock when the fluid is withdrawn. The innovative coating process allows for coated sand to be produced using less energy while minimizing environmental impact compared to phenolic resins. O’Neill says the technology performs under a range of conditions and depths, is cost-effective and makes the drilling process more sustainable, than the traditional phenolic-based resin. The technology is currently implemented in the company’s RCS Garnet and RCS Pearl product lines. RCS Garnet was designed specifically for flowback control in low temperatures with a built-in activator that does not require an additional chemical treatment, while RCS Pearl has better bond strength and flowback protection in hotter and deeper wells. 

Preferred Sands, headquartered in Radnor, Pa., is one of North America’s largest manufacturers and providers of frac sand. In addition to Wisconsin, the company has plants in Arizona, Minnesota, Nebraska and Canada. Preferred’s Flin Flon, Manitoba, location is one of the longest-running frack sand plants in North America.

Author: Chris Hanson 
Staff Writer, The Bakken magazine