In 2001, a business associate asked me if I thought fracking was a good thing or a bad thing. I responded by asking him if he was in favor of U.S. independence from foreign oil. He said, “Well, it depends.” I asked, “On what?” He replied, “On whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to put workers in Saudi Arabia out of work or not.” I said, “End of discussion.”
I happen to believe, and a lot of people agree, that seeing our country independent from foreign oil is a huge deal. And I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it as a frac sand industry professional because, without frac sand, we might never achieve that independence.
How Close is Oil Independence?
Most people don’t realize that the U.S. is on the brink of overtaking Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s leading oil producer. Just twelve years ago, we were importing around 13 million barrels of oil per day. Today, that’s down to 2.5 million, thanks to fracking. Before you know it, we’ll be a major oil exporter thanks to fracking and an administration that understands the global importance of “energy dominance”. Most people also probably don’t realize that we are already exporting around 2 million barrels per day. Pretty cool, in my opinion.
Not surprisingly, there are still those who think fracking is bad for the environment. It’s true that there were some instances where fracking caused some serious environmental problems. But that’s now ancient history. Today, fracking is unquestionably not bad for the environment. In fact today, the same companies that are allowed to drill and frack oil wells in many parts of the country are allowed to do so only after finding and sealing any old oil wells that were drilled (some more than a hundred years ago) by companies that may no longer be in existence. So I would argue that because we are fracking today, we are also actually improving the environment. Funny, you don’t hear about that in the press.
Today, the easy target for negative press in the fracking industry is the sand. The rapidly increasing production, distribution and use of frac sand without some environmental disturbance can be challenging. The key factor enabling our oil independence is the declining cost of domestic oil production. Fracking allows low-cost oil production and the sand makes it work. So, the lower the cost of sand in the process, the lower the cost of each barrel produced.
Nearly 100 years ago, the Permian Basin in West Texas began producing oil. Thanks to fracking technology, it has grown to be the second most prolific oil basin in the world producing more than 2.5 million barrels of oil (the equivalent of 150 Olympic sized swimming pools) every day. And further aiding our march to oil independence is the recent realization that the sand covering the Permian Basin can be used for fracking. This equates to an enormous reduction in the fracking cost because no longer does the sand need to be railed from places like Wisconsin. It’s right there where they are using it. There are, however, a couple of catches.
The first catch: West Texas highway and infrastructure systems will be quickly strained to the limits. For example, I suggest that by the end of 2018, an estimated 30,000 new tractor-trailers per day carrying sand, water, and oil will be driving around in an area that’s 300 miles long and 250 miles wide – roughly the size of South Dakota. This is in addition to the increased pickup truck traffic resulting from the thousands of new workers moving into the area. But not to worry, smart people are figuring out how to deal with all this.
The second catch: The quality of the sand overlying the Permian Basin has yet to demonstrate its long-term performance versus the sand that comes from Wisconsin. Just a couple of years ago, it was unthinkable that the west Texas sand was of sufficient quality to be used for fracking. Then, suddenly it worked great! What happens if suddenly it’s discovered it doesn’t work as great as everyone thought? Not to worry, just go back to using Wisconsin sand. This might delay our oil independence, but not for long.
Nobody said our path to oil independence would be easy. But thanks to a bunch of really smart, dedicated and tenacious people, it’s happening and nothing can stop it now.