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It turns out that sand is a much greater tool in hydraulic fracking than drillers had understood it to be. Time and again, they've found that the more grit they pour into horizontal wells -- seemingly regardless of how extreme the amounts have become -- the more oil comes seeping out.
The message from drillers is “more, more, more sand,” said Sean Meakim, an oil-services analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “All of the numbers are going up and they’re going up dramatically.”
On a per-well basis, sand use has doubled since 2011, climbing to nearly 8 million pounds, according to consulting firm IHS Inc. It’s this growth that’s caused the stock prices of the country’s four publicly traded sand miners to more than double this year. True, overall sand usage in the fracking industry is still way down from the 2014 peak -- more than three-quarters of America’s drilling rigs, after all, have been idled since oil prices collapsed -- but the per-well increases have analysts and investors betting that the sand industry will boom again as soon as fracking activity starts to pick up even a little bit.
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