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Everything we plow, harvest or mine started as rock and evolved in time. Given enough time, solid rock exposed at the earth's surface is broken down into rock and mineral fragments by weathering into what geologists call "surficial materials." Laymen call it dirt, soil, rock or metallic and non-metallic minerals.
In it naturally decomposed state, these "commodities" have a low in-place utility. Move it somewhere else and its market value increases.
Multiple kinds of stone deformation are important to civilization. One is high-quality deformation such as high-grade sand. Let's first review what is called fracking sand, or frac sand.
The second market is stone and gravel.
To move both sand and stone and gravel to market rail transportation is heavily relied upon. In 2018, more than 1.2 million carloads of aggregate and sand were moved by U. S. railroads.
Association of American Railroads graph shows recent growth in aggregates and sands since 2009
Frac sand rail market view
Industrial sand is a high purity silica historically sold for glassmaking, chemical production, paints, ceramics and refractories. Its most recent use is in the oil and gas recovery industry.
Frac sands are typically more than 99 percent quartz or silica – with each particle well-rounded with few impurities.
Frac sand is a type of proppant.
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which fluids and proppants are forced under pressure down a drilled hole to crack open source rock. This helps release trapped oil and gas. Proppant props open the cracks, allowing a freer release of oil and gas during pumping.
Fracking of oil and gas has been growing as a preferred method since about 2008 in North Dakota (the Bakken fields) and now in Texas (the Permian field) shale drilling.
The highest quality frac sands are found in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Given the long distances between these sand deposits and the shale fields, rail freight is unquestionably the cheapest transport mode. Rail distances range from about 400 miles to as much as over 1,800 miles.
Railroad frac sand equipment is usually a covered hopper railcar type. This protects the moisture content and prevents cargo loss from wind as the railcar moves along the rails.
This article first appeared on www.benzinga.com