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What the frac?

Wayfinder showcased its proppant facility near Obed during a May 29 tour for Hinton Chamber

Craig Durrant, facility manager at Wayfinder, opens up the sand mixer for the Chamber of Commerce tour group on May 29. Chemicals are added to coat the sand, which is then continuously fluffed and moved around to prevent it from sticking together.
Masha Scheele Photo

Masha Scheele

Wayfinder’s proppant plant near Obed is one of only two resin sand manufacturing facilities in Canada, the company told a group of Chamber members during a May 29 site tour.

The facility provides Northern White, regional and resin-coated sand for oil and gas companies in the area and employs around 13 people, most of whom live in Hinton. It takes two staff members to operate the entire plant near Obed, one person sits in the control room, while the other is stationed in the lab. 

Facility manager Craig Durrant told the tour group about each stage the sand goes through, starting at a bunker that holds waste sand.

Sand that doesn’t meet certain specifications is tested and approved for landfilling. 

“It’s rated one class higher than household garbage, it’s inert, it’s essentially controlled and goes into the landfill,” said Durrant.

Durrant added that, after testing, the waste raw sand can be donated to places like golf courses and sandblasting outfits, but due to silica content he doesn’t recommend it to playgrounds.

“We offer it to the golf courses, if they want to come get it. Lots of people ask to use it for sand bags for the backs of their trucks in the winter. A lot of pipeline companies will come and ask if they can bag up sand and take it away,” said Durrant.

Staff try to repurpose as much as they can, one example is the bags used to bring in chemicals are later used to collect dust.

“We’re trying to be very conscious in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” added Durrant.

The tour moved onto the lab where a small sample of sand is automatically received from each batch of sand made in order to test the quality of the product.

This type of sand is used by oil and gas companies during hydraulic fracturing and is critical as it helps keep fractures open, providing permeable conductivity channels back to the well bore.

“We supply the pressure pumping market in this area and we also produce resin coated sand,” Durrant said during the tour.

“When you pump normal raw sand down in the well at the end you have to create a buffer. It stops the sand from flowing back into the well bore.”

Durrant showed the group each machine before entering into the control room where they got a view on computer screens that show how each machine in the plant works together.

Masha Scheele Photo

From the silos, sand is moved into the plant and weighed into a heater, from the heater it’s moved into a mixer where a proprietary chemical blend is added and continuously mixed, then it’s screened and moves to a sand cooler via an elevator where it is screened again and finally moved down a conveyor into a set of tanks, explained Durrant.

“We train everyone to run these because there is no school you can go to to run one of these plants, this is only one of two plants in all of Canada. The first one is just north of Edmonton in Sturgeon,” said Durrant.

“The right candidate gets a little bit of experience on the floor, a little bit of experience in transloads to understand some of the controls. Because the transloads is controlled the same way this is done, just a lot less data points. A little bit quicker thinking in here.”

Between the two companies in Canada there are likely only 25 people trained to run the plant, noted Durrant.

Silos at the Wayfinder plant near Obed
Masha Scheele Photo

Being centralized in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin played a big role in the location of the plant and as they currently provide product to mainly the Alberta deep basin, Obed was an ideal location.

The Alberta deep basin area is a major oil and gas basin located on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The Obed area is also easily accessible via rail as it sits along one of CN’s main corridors.

Northern White sand is imported from Wisconsin via rail, while regional sand comes from the Wayfinder regional sand pit located 45 minutes southeast of Whitecourt.

“The sand being produced out near Glenevis is more for the Duvernay plays, like Fox Creek area. What you’re looking for in sand is the crush value. Our crush value in regional sand is a lot lower, but for that rock in that area it’s perfect because there’s not enough pressure down hole to actually shatter that sand,” explained Durrant.

The grand opening for the Wayfinder plant near Obed was in May 2018, and throughout the building phase they employed anywhere from 50 to 60 people, stated Dylan Read, general manager at the Obed plant.

Wayfinder also operates two high speed frac sand transloading facilities in Alberta, one located at the Obed facility. 

The transloading facility can unload a railcar in 10 minutes and load a truck in six minutes with a capacity to service more than 300 trucks in a single day.