In recent years, operators have been pumping more and more proppant per stimulated foot while simultaneously increasing lateral lengths. In order to mitigate the resultant costs and logistical difficulties, operators and service companies have switched to lower cost ‘in-basin’ sands. There is a concern that the new design profile of wells-massive amounts of lower crush strength sand-will result in steeper production decline. At this point we feel that enough time has passed to test this hypothesis. We have gathered data from fracfocus.org on frac treatment design, supplemented it with data from state databases when available, and rigorously validated and cross-referenced all sources of data. We also gathered monthly production data from said state agencies. We regressed proppant type and intensity against production normalized by stimulated length for every play, including in Texas where raw well level production data is unavailable, and instead allocated production to wells on a lease. We used geographical components and operator fixed effects as controls to rule out endogeneity of acreage and idiosyncratic operator practices, respectively.
The Permian can be divided broadly into two geographic sections – Delaware and Midland. In-basin sand adoption in the Permian is at ~80%, which is among the highest in the nation. The Delaware has deeper formations with higher downhole pressures, whereas, the Midland has shallower formations with lower downhole pressures. In-basin sand adoption on the Midland side of the Permian has been a lot higher relative to the Delaware due to this very reason. There are currently around 20 active in-basin sand mines serving the Permian.
Historically, northern white sand was the primary frac sand type used in the Permian and Eagle Ford. Brown sand mines in central Texas did serve frac sand to both plays even prior to the downturn in 2014. The downturn forced operators to cut down costs and brown sand volumes increased in 2015 and 2016. In late 2017, in-basin sand mines started coming online in the Permian. This started cannibalizing demand from northern white sand and brown sand.