Pubblicato in: Economia e Produzione Industriale, Materie Prime, Stati Uniti

Texas. Il prezzo della sabbia è salito del 150% in un anno. Carburante per la inflazione.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2022-07-22.

2022-07-12_ Sabbia 001

«It’s sand scarcity, even more than price, that’s the big hurdle for oil drillers»

«È la scarsità di sabbia, più ancora del prezzo, il grande ostacolo per i trivellatori di petrolio»

* * * * * * *

Percorrendo le desolate autostrade del Bacino Permiano, il più trafficato giacimento petrolifero del mondo, ci sono lunghi tratti in cui si vedono solo impianti di trivellazione, cespugli di salvia e chilometri e chilometri di sabbia.

Ecco perché è così strano che i produttori di greggio del Texas stiano affrontando una carenza di sabbia di oltre 1 milione di tonnellate e che i prezzi siano balzati del 150%.

La sabbia per il fracking, che viene fatta esplodere attraverso le rocce scistose per sbloccare petrolio e gas naturale, ha un prezzo medio di 55 dollari a tonnellata, rispetto ai 22 dollari della fine del 2021.

Fin dai primi giorni della rivoluzione dello scisto, più di dieci anni fa, gli operatori del fracking si sono affidati alla sabbia estratta che viene consegnata ai loro siti tramite camion, su distanze anche di 100 miglia.

Perché non usare la sabbia che si trova proprio sotto i piedi?

Nomad ha sviluppato macchinari che possono andare direttamente ai pozzi di fracking (più o meno a 10 o 20 miglia), riducendo notevolmente l’onere dei costi di trasporto e il lungo processo di autotrasporto.

Brock ha lasciato il suo lavoro alla Covia, uno dei più grandi estrattori di sabbia per fracking del mondo, nel febbraio 2020 per contribuire all’avvio di Nomad. Il mese scorso ha lanciato la sua prima miniera di sabbia mobile nel Texas occidentale, dopo l’enorme impennata dei prezzi.

È la scarsità di sabbia, più ancora del prezzo, il grande ostacolo per i trivellatori di petrolio.

La situazione è così estrema che alcune compagnie petrolifere stanno trasportando la sabbia in treno dal Wisconsin a un costo quasi doppio.

Nel frattempo, i deficit nelle forniture energetiche – e la conseguente impennata dei prezzi – sono tra i maggiori responsabili del drammatico aumento dell’inflazione in tutto il pianeta.

La domanda totale di sabbia da fratturazione negli Stati Uniti è attualmente superiore di circa il 5% rispetto ai circa 25 milioni di tonnellate prodotte, secondo il consulente industriale Enverus, che stima un deficit di circa 1.3 milioni di tonnellate.

Brock di Nomad afferma che scavando nella terra a circa 4.6 metri di profondità su 40 acri, una delle sue unità mobili può produrre circa 1 milione di tonnellate.

Il rimbalzo dei prezzi della sabbia è emblematico dell’inflazione che si sta diffondendo nel Permiano.

I costi per le aziende statunitensi dello shale stanno aumentando del 25%, ovvero quasi il triplo del tasso d’inflazione.

Trasformare la sabbia in un’attività mobile significa affrontare un’altra area di strozzature della catena di approvvigionamento: il trasporto su strada.

Poiché Nomad può scavare la sabbia vicino al luogo in cui è necessaria, un singolo veicolo a 18 ruote può fare più viaggi avanti e indietro dalla miniera mobile al pozzo in un giorno. Ciò significa che sono necessari solo 10 camion in totale, rispetto ai circa 70 utilizzati per le consegne tradizionali dalle miniere. Ciò comporta una significativa riduzione dei costi di trasporto.

Dopo lo scavo, la sabbia viene lavata e lasciata asciugare all’aria in cumuli per alcuni giorni. Nelle miniere fisse, viene poi soffiata in gigantesche macchine essiccatrici.

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«Bumping along the desolate highways of the Permian Basin, the world’s busiest oil field, there are long stretches where all you see are drilling rigs, sage brush and miles upon miles of sand»

«That’s why it’s so strange that Texas crude producers are facing a sand shortage of more than 1 million tons and prices that have jumped 150%»

«Frack sand, which gets blasted through shale rocks to unlock oil and natural gas, is averaging $55 a ton, up from $22 at the end of 2021»

«Since the early days of the shale revolution more than a decade ago, fracking operators have relied on mined sand that’s delivered to their sites by truck — across distances as long as 100 miles»

«Why not just use the sand that’s right under your feet?»

«Nomad has developed machinery that can go directly to the frack wells (give or take 10 to 20 miles), vastly reducing the burden of freight costs and the time-consuming process of trucking»

«Brock left his job at Covia, one of the world’s biggest frack-sand miners, in February 2020 to help start Nomad. It launched its first mobile sand mine in West Texas last month, after the huge surge in prices»

«It’s sand scarcity, even more than price, that’s the big hurdle for oil drillers»

«Things are so extreme that some oil companies are shipping sand in by train from Wisconsin at almost double the cost»

«Meanwhile, deficits in energy supplies — and the resulting surge in prices — are among the biggest drivers of the dramatic rise in inflation across the planet»

«Total US demand for frack sand is currently about 5% higher than the roughly 25 million tons being produced, according to industry consultant Enverus, which estimates a shortfall of roughly 1.3 million tons»

«Brock of Nomad says that by carving into the earth about 15 feet (4.6 meters) deep across 40 acres, one of his mobile units can produce about 1 million tons»

«The rebound for sand prices is emblematic of the inflation spreading across the Permian»

«Costs for US shale companies are soaring at a rate of 25%, or almost triple the headline inflation rate»

«Turning sand into a mobile business tackles another area of supply-chain bottlenecks: trucking»

«Because Nomad can dig up sand close to where it’s needed, a single 18-wheeler can make multiple trips back and forth from the mobile mine to the well in one day. That means as few as 10 trucks total are needed, down from the roughly 70 used in traditional deliveries from mines. That brings a significant drop in freight costs»

«After sand is dug up, it gets washed and then left to air dry in piles for a few days. At stationary mines, it then gets blasted in giant drying machines»

* * * * * * *


The Cost of Sand Has Spiked 150% in Texas

(Bloomberg) — Bumping along the desolate highways of the Permian Basin, the world’s busiest oil field, there are long stretches where all you see are drilling rigs, sage brush and miles upon miles of sand. That’s why it’s so strange that Texas crude producers are facing a sand shortage of more than 1 million tons and prices that have jumped 150%.

Frack sand, which gets blasted through shale rocks to unlock oil and natural gas, is averaging $55 a ton, up from $22 at the end of 2021, data from energy-research firm Lium show. Demand is climbing as oil explorers turn the taps back on after Covid-driven cutbacks. But like in so many pockets of the economy, the recovery is sparking a mismatch. Sand suppliers have seen disruptions, labor shortages and trucking bottlenecks. The chief executive officer of US Silica Holdings Inc., the largest publicly traded frack-sand miner, has dubbed the tight market “sandemonium” and said his company is sold out.

That’s where Steve Brock and his upstart sand-mining operation, Nomad Proppant LLC, come in. Since the early days of the shale revolution more than a decade ago, fracking operators have relied on mined sand that’s delivered to their sites by truck — across distances as long as 100 miles. Brock, Nomad’s chief commercial officer, wants to turn that model on its head.

His idea: Why not just use the sand that’s right under your feet?

Nomad has developed machinery that can go directly to the frack wells (give or take 10 to 20 miles), vastly reducing the burden of freight costs and the time-consuming process of trucking.

“We’re not brain surgeons here — all we’re doing is finding the best spots and washing and delivering the sand,” said Brock, 34. “Frankly, that it took us this long to get here is pretty wild.”

Brock left his job at Covia, one of the world’s biggest frack-sand miners, in February 2020 to help start Nomad. It launched its first mobile sand mine in West Texas last month, after the huge surge in prices. He calls the timing “very lucky.”

It’s sand scarcity, even more than price, that’s the big hurdle for oil drillers. Pioneer Natural Resources Co., the Permian’s biggest producer, said it expected oil and natural gas output would take a hit last quarter because of sand issues. Things are so extreme that some oil companies are shipping sand in by train from Wisconsin at almost double the cost.

Whether Nomad and rivals like Hi-Crush Inc., one of the original frack-sand pioneers that’s now also introduced mobile units, can help solve the sand squeeze could play a significant role in the global energy markets.

While drillers in the Permian have shown restraint in ramping up oil production, the last thing the world needs is for sand problems to place even more limitations on their output. The US, the world’s top oil producer and among the biggest liquefied natural gas exporters, has become an even more important supplier in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine and OPEC’s struggles to meet production targets. Meanwhile, deficits in energy supplies — and the resulting surge in prices — are among the biggest drivers of the dramatic rise in inflation across the planet.

 “You cannot take sand for granted,” said Chris Wright, CEO of Liberty Energy Inc., the second-biggest frack-services provider. Without enough, “I’m quite concerned about global balances for oil, gas and food — those are intimately tied.”

Total US demand for frack sand is currently about 5% higher than the roughly 25 million tons being produced, according to industry consultant Enverus, which estimates a shortfall of roughly 1.3 million tons.

Brock of Nomad says that by carving into the earth about 15 feet (4.6 meters) deep across 40 acres, one of his mobile units can produce about 1 million tons. And since the units are mobile, Nomad doesn’t need to limit itself to the huge, dusty dunes of traditional mines.

“We can find deposits that previously wouldn’t make sense if you thought you’re stationary, because maybe this deposit only has 3 million tons,” Brock said. “That can give me two years’ worth of work, and then I can move over 2 miles to the next spot.”

The rebound for sand prices is emblematic of the inflation spreading across the Permian. Analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. estimate costs for US shale companies are soaring at a rate of 25%, or almost triple the headline inflation rate.

A lot of that’s driven by shortages. There aren’t enough steel pipes, not enough drilling rigs, not enough bulldozers – and critically, not enough people. Occidental Petroleum Corp. CEO Vicki Hollub has said worker shortages along with supply-chain snarls explain some of why US oil drillers aren’t significantly expanding production.

Turning sand into a mobile business tackles another area of supply-chain bottlenecks: trucking.

Because Nomad can dig up sand close to where it’s needed, a single 18-wheeler can make multiple trips back and forth from the mobile mine to the well in one day. That means as few as 10 trucks total are needed, down from the roughly 70 used in traditional deliveries from mines. That brings a significant drop in freight costs. But even more critically in the Permian, where labor is extremely tight and the unemployment rate is hovering just above 3%, it means needing fewer truck drivers.

As Brock puts it: “You solve that issue, you solve a lot of problems.”

Devon Energy Corp., one of the region’s biggest explorers, is among those already turning to mobile mines. The company is working with Hi-Crush to develop its unit. The pilot project will sit on a roughly 5-acre pad site and account for a quarter of Devon’s total sand needs in the Delaware Basin, in the western half of the Permian.

“It gives us a sense of security with our supply,” said John Raines, vice president of Devon’s Delaware Basin business unit.

It’s also helping to spark a revival for companies like Hi-Crush, which went into bankruptcy during the sand-bust days of 2020.

“It’s definitely our growth engine,” Hi-Crush CEO Dirk Hallen said of the company’s three mobile units and plans to roll out more later this year. With fracking operators now consuming almost three times as much sand each month as they did five years ago, Hallen said demand is likely to stay strong.

And Brock of Nomad points out that mobile units will be able to meet demand faster than traditional mines because not having to truck as far also means eliminating the time-consuming step of drying.

After sand is dug up, it gets washed and then left to air dry in piles for a few days. At stationary mines, it then gets blasted in giant drying machines. That way when trucks are loaded, they’re carrying as much sand as possible. But Brock says since his trucks only go a short distance, he can skip the machine drying, eliminating pricey equipment.

The cost savings were a key part of Nomad’s pitch as the company was getting off the ground during the depths of the pandemic, when Brock says prices were so low that sand was a “four-letter word,” and not just literally.

 “When you get crunched, and you need to start saving some money,” he said, “you start getting creative.”