A Brief History of Proppants

The evolution of proppant usage has been slow to develop.  The first frac job was conducted in 1947 with 20,000 lbs of uncoated frac sand.  It wasn’t until 1981 that the first frac job was completed in the Barnett Shale.  Uncoated ceramic proppant was first used in 1983, while resin coated proppant (RCP) was introduced in 1984.  The largest frac job prior to the year 2000 utilized 1,000,000 lbs of proppant. 

It took 18 years for ceramics and bauxites to exceed 1,000,000,000 lbs of annual usage, while it took resin coated proppants 19 years to exceed 1,000,000,000 lbs.

High strength proppants have been slow to expand like the Barnett Shale technology that started the shale expansion.  The blue line in the first US Active Rigs chart shown below represents the number of rigs actively in operation during the time period; the red line represents the price per barrel of oil in the US.  The red circle indicates the growth in the horizontal rig count.  The first Barnett well was drilled in 1981.  Acme RCS developed the concept of using foundry resins in 1982.  As mentioned, the first use of ceramics was a year later in 1983.  Borden bought Acme back in 1985 to complement their technology.  Fairmount later acquired Manley RCS in 1991.  SPE 38611, “Proppants? We Don’t Need No Proppants!”, (Mayerhofer, et al) came out in 1997.  It took a total of 20 years from concept to acceptance (1981 to 2001).

Fibers were first introduced in 1998.  Liquid Resins OTF also came out in 1998.  Lightweight proppants were first used in the year 2000.  RCPs in the 40/70 mesh size became available in 2003 and 100 mesh proppants were first used later that year.  The first new industry capacity for RCP in 10 years occurred in 2004.

The industry can often be unpredictable and irrational.  In 2006, usage of RCPs in the 30/50 mesh size began to accelerate, while in 2009, 20/40 was labeled as being “dead.”  Then, later in 2009, 20/40 RCPs were in extremely short supply.

While various forms of proppants have been used for over 60 years, only in the last few decades have proppants made strides into the advanced technology that they are today.  As new oil and gas extraction techniques continue to develop, proppants will evolve to provide the solution to increasing the effectiveness of hydraulic fracturing.