Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a major buzzword within oil and gas production in the US and Canada today. As this drilling technique continues to expand, the demand on material producers to deliver frac sand to aid in the fracturing process has naturally grown along with it.
Source Energy Services (SES) is one of the fastest-growing industrial sand suppliers in North America. The company’s mining and processing operation in Sumner, Wisconsin, is believed to be one of the largest production facilities for silica sand. This single location is set up to produce more than two million tonnes of proppant annually. Sand from Wisconsin is then delivered to storage terminals positioned near key shale plays across the continent.
Local infrastructure in many cities and surrounding areas hasn’t developed fast enough to keep pace with booming oil and gas activity. Production and support companies themselves have had to grow so fast that many have resorted to makeshift options, particularly when it comes to erecting any buildings required for their operations.
SES has been determined to avoid the pitfalls of growing too quickly. Rather than putting up lesser structures that only meet immediate needs, the company strives to be at the forefront of trends and facility builds, ensuring that their buildings will continue to serve them well for the long-haul.
SES vice-president of construction Mike Miller said: "By today’s standards, the buildings we’re designing are of world-class caliber in the US and Canada." This was the mindset at work when determining how to proceed with the company’s new frac sand distribution facility in Wembley, Alberta.
The purpose of the building was to provide large-format sand storage for the area’s oil and gas industry. Upon completion, it became the largest facility for this purpose in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin. The facility is capable of receiving several unit trains on a monthly basis, with each train usually carrying more than 10,000t of material. By contrast, Miller noted that most transload distribution centers in the area provide around 2,000t for an oil or gas frac.
Miller added: "We have a ‘tank farm’ using 300t tanks around 25km away that was constructed as a transload storage facility for many suppliers. However, as drillers have been needing to facilitate larger fracs, silos or tank transloads do not have the operational capacity to fill those needs. The large-format facility in Wembley is designed to solve any supply issues that a driller would ever have, mainly a reliable source of sand."
In keeping with its philosophy of advancing its construction methods and facilities to a higher level, while still taking into account the timeline required to engineer and construct a new building, SES focused its search on tension fabric building contractors. After reviewing and comparing specifications, materials and costs from a handful of manufacturers, SES selected Legacy Building Solutions for the project.
Miller said: "Legacy offered several features that put them at the top of the list. We were very impressed by their engineering team. They are unique among fabric buildings in that they build on a rigid steel frame. Everything looked good, from the eave and ridge ventilation system to the method for installing fabric panels. Combined with material delivery times and the time to construct, Legacy seemed like the perfect choice for our application."
In the design phase, SES worked to define exact requirements in order to narrow the parameters of the facility. One key goal was to house all workers and operations inside the building, protected from the constantly gusting winds of the Alberta prairie. This type of initiative could have resulted in a massive structure exceeding the scope of what was truly required, but SES and Legacy worked together closely to come up with the appropriate heights and lengths, as well as multiple lean-to areas.
The outcome was a building designed to allow the full use of its storage volume of almost three million cubic feet. The main body of the fabric structure measures an impressive 140ft by 480ft, with three lean-to sections measuring 60ft by 40ft, 60ft by 80ft and 24ft by 200ft, respectively, adding up to a total of 79,200ft². An offset peak and varying leg heights further characterize a building that is fully customized for the specific facility envisioned by SES.
Miller added: "We have a drive aisle that connects the entire building at its core and allows us access to our stockpiles. We use two of the lean-to spaces to load our feed hoppers and the other lean-to is a heated shop that has lined walls and is equipped with infrared heating units. We have 18ft by 18ft access doors big enough for loaders and skid steers to enter. The whole design is very efficient for our operations."
The rigid frame design of the Legacy building proved beneficial, as SES implemented plans for a conveyor that would be suspended from the rafters and run the length of the building. After performing a structural analysis and determining load requirements, the structural design was easily modified to accommodate the conveyor system.
Milller said: "Flexibility is key, especially when the building is a first-of-its-kind for this industry. We had one design change after the whole plan was in place, to widen our trapeze in the structure that supports the conveyor, and Legacy was able to make that change without any problem. The conveyor system fits and operates just as it was designed."
According to Miller, SES is always looking to design facilities that use natural sunlight, which made Legacy’s 15oz, fire-rated polyethylene roof that allows abundant daylight to permeate the structure, a perfect solution for the new facility.
Miller added: "In far northern Alberta in the summer, the sun stays high for a long period of time, so we take full advantage of any light we can get. We believe naturally lit areas are good for worker morale, since they feel more connected to the outside environment. And, of course, it also saves on our facility operating cost, since the fabric allows us to work with the internal lighting systems off, even on cloudy days."
The facility in Wembley officially opened on schedule on 3 June 2014, despite a rough Canadian winter that set SES’ concrete contractor behind by more than a month on installing the building’s foundation.
Miller said: "Legacy knew our schedule and saved us more than 30 days of downtime. They stood the frames for the entire fabric structure in a single day and everything, conveyors, electrical and fabric, was completed within five weeks of them coming to the site. It was a Herculean effort on Legacy’s part; it was fantastic."
As part of its continued growth to support fracking operations and other exploration activity, SES is working toward several other new facilities in the near future, and Legacy figures to be a part of the picture.
Miller added: "They have a very passionate team, from top to bottom. In all respects, from design to pricing to production, Legacy is one of the best building contractors I’ve ever worked with. I look forward to working with them again."