MSL News Forum – The articles posted here address the Critical Importance of High Quality Frac Sand

Material Spec Labs president Penny Aschenbrenner’s press release on the United Nations warning of a global sand crisis immediately above.

The UN announces World Wide Industrial Sand Shortage that Also Impacts Oil Well Production Yields.

Substandard Frac Sand Proppant’s Negative Impact Across Oil Well Production Yields 

As world tensions and oil prices soar, the release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; the importance of maximizing yields in the Bakken and West Texas oil fields take on a new urgency.

BLACK RIVER FALLS, Wis. (April 5, 2022) —

Wisconsin geologist and president of Material Spec Labs LLC, announced today that there is systemic sand supple problem affecting the oil industry in the US and around the world.  The problem seems to be resulting from labor shortages, supply chain issues, and cost of processing at the sand mines.  It is resulting in the wide-spread use of sub-standard frac sand.  This has led to many costly issues including but not limited to dramatic reduction in frac conductivity, major equipment failures at the wellsite, and costly cause for re-frac operations much sooner than expected or budgeted.

Sub-standard proppant is a known petroleum industry issue that can drastically diminish oil well yields of up to 75% after the first year of operation.  Sub-standard proppant is frac sand that does not meet the most current American Petroleum Institute standard API STD 19C.

This announcement by Material Spec Labs is timelier with the with the explosive price increase in oil, and the US Government’s release of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.  According to Material Spec Labs president Penny Aschenbrenner: “The US oil fields in the Bakken and West Texas have the capability of increasing their yield by implementing and adhering to the American Petroleum Institute API STD 19C standard.  Unfortunately, many different oil well operations are not even checking the laboratory analysis of the frac sand that they’re using due to the current lack of availability of frac sand, if a lab analysis was even done.  The very reason that API created this new standard was to prevent what is common place across the petroleum industry, the use of sub-standard frac and the subsequent sharp decrease in oil well yield.”

About Material Spec Labs LLC:  the MSL team has over 50 years of relevant frac sand industry experience in Petroleum Engineering, Geology, and ISO compliance for material testing.  In addition, they have 20 years of API 19C / ISO13503-2 testing and product development for proppants. MSL specializes in Prospect Development, API 19C / ISO 17025:2017 compliant testing services and API approved 19C virtual training.

MSL’s portfolio is domestic and international. In the US: Mid Continent, GOM, CA, WY, CO.  Internationally: North Africa Energy Equipment and Services (Sand Characterization). MSL’s long standing commitment to industry standards is evident in our active involvement with API 19C and ASTM E11 Committees. MSL has an extensive background in providing mechanical and chemical testing of Alluvial and Eollian Sands.  Contact Material Spec Labs LLC:

Understanding the very expensive problems with oil well frac sand and what it means to you -

Sept 21, 2022

The kids are fighting, the kitchen is on fire, and CPS is knocking on the door… Im not describing a domestic nightmare here.  This is possibly the most accurate metaphor to describe the current condition of the oil and gas industry.

  • Let’s talk about the kids.  We love them, we need them, can’t live without them.
  • Their names? Northern White and Brady Brown.
  • The Problem? They fight, they compete, and they are unsupervised.
  • Solution? Structure and discipline

All jokes aside, Northern White and Brady Brown are both great products.  Unfortunately, due to short comings in testing, standard compliance, and quality expectations there’s become an almost cult following based on mislead beliefs and emotional interests rather than functional and thoughtful application of the products in well environments that encourage optimized product performance.

As an industry we need to take a step back and honestly evaluate individual product performance and apply metrics to reliably use as engineering inputs.  The road map to this is using accredited laboratories to 3rd party test products and performance, set quality expectations and standard compliance from cradle to grave, and hold mining operations responsible for maintaining consistent quality and performance of the material they sell. These two kids do not need to argue and compete.  They both have a purpose and function in the industry.  We need to define their lane and use them strategically.

How bout that kitchen fire? It started out innocent enough.  A quick fix dinner after a long day. Then unexpectedly the  burner left on high ignites the dribble of grease you spilled, and before you know it your house is burning down.  Remember back in the early 2000’s and the mad rush for frac sand?  It was the wild west.  We turned the burners up and poured everything we could get our hands on down hole.  If we look at the situation critically, the entire frac sand boom was driven by profit instead foundational science.  We’re still there.  Its burning our economic houses down.  Its been tested and proven that poor sand quality can reduce a wells productivity by at least 20% in the first year.  Lets say it again just a little louder… 20%!!! We should be past this.  Since we’re not, lets start now.  We need industry regulations on sand quality.  Fun fact, did you know? Golf course bunker sand quality is more regulated with higher quality expectations than frac sand?  In terms of comparison to domestic life, that’s like sending your dog to obedience school and letting your kids self-educate via youtube.

Why is CPS knocking on your door?  Well, the nosey neighbor called the cops again.  You used to be cousins with the sheriff and he would ignore the calls about the chaos but since he retired theres a new guy running things and this time Gadis Cravits got her way.  They showed up this time with real fines and warrants and you must make a change.

There is no question that the theme of the investment community has been “ESG” (Environmental, Social, & Governance) investing.  Some banks and investment firms have stopped investing in fossil energy altogether.  That said, many are putting pressure on their portfolio companies to lower their carbon footprint.  Let’s take another look at that 20%.  Seems like a great place to start in terms of getting greener.

Penny Aschenbrenner is managing director, Material Spec Labs,, a consulting and testing laboratory serving the oil and gas industry.

If Golf Course Sand is Regulated, Why Not Proppants?

Golfing is a billion-dollar industry and arguably the favorite past time of white-collar Americans. Who doesn’t love the beautiful rolling greens and the pristine bunkers filled with premium sand?

We spend our money on memberships and equipment to enjoy a relaxing day on the course. But have you ever considered what it takes to maintain the beauty we enjoy? I was surprised to discover that the sand used in bunkers is truly one of the most thoroughly regulated aggregate commodities in the world.

It must first be tested and approved for use by accredited laboratories before its even considered for the bunker, then there’s scheduled quality checks throughout the duration of use. As soon as a bunker fails the QC check its “outta” there and replaced with material that meets spec.

Why do we put so much importance on the quality of sand used for our leisure activities, but we fail to implement assured and accredited quality checks on our sand products that can make or break our bottom line?

We’re talking about frac sand here. Did you know that there are no quality requirements for the sand used in our oil wells? Sure, we have the API 19C standard but there isn’t a single laboratory accredited to test proppants.

We take the word of the sand mines that the product being purchased is good (seems a bit like letting the fox run the hen house). Often the material shows up on site, dusty, dirty, full of rocks, and who knows what else and when questioned the mines respond with “It was fine when it left here.” You are given a CofA for the product and there you sit with bad dirt on site and nothing to do but use it.

Material Spec Labs is leading the initiative to change this problem. We want to help your company ensure that you are getting what you pay for. From cradle to grave on your proppant order we have the resources to ensure you are getting what you need.

Your engineers spend time and money designing your frac, picking the best material possible to optimize yields. Doesn’t it make sense to ensure that those material orders are meeting the requirements set by your engineers?

After all, we should at least care as much about our bottom line and optimizing yields as much as the golf courses care about the quality of their bunker sand.

Penny Aschenbrenner is managing director, Material Spec Labs,, a consulting and testing laboratory serving the oil and gas industry.

Proppants: Are You Getting What You Pay For?

Originally published in

Q: What do oil companies and sand mines have in common? 

A: Proppants and profits.

The following information describes the crippling inefficiencies of proppant quality control and how it affects the bottom line for sand mines and oil producers.

We’ve come a long way since 1866 when the first “exploding torpedo” was used downhole to fracture shale. That explosion was the “shot heard ‘round the world” for the fracking industry.

Today, modern fracking boasts some of the most technologically advanced, expertly engineered equipment being operated by some of the brightest minds in the world.

Also today, there is no accredited laboratory offering certified testing for the evaluation of proppants used in hydraulic fracturing. You read that right. If that isn’t surprising enough, there’s no one auditing that the manufacturer of proppants to ensure the end user (oil company) is receiving the quality of material they are paying for. Proppants are arguably the most critical component of the fracking process and there is no enforcement of quality.

Proppants were first introduced back in the 1940s when some dirty river sand was put down a well. Since then, we’ve tried just about everything we could think of. Glass beads, plastic pellets, walnut shells, there’s even rumors of some radioactive stuff from China still sitting on a dock somewhere.

ISO and API have written standards for the evaluation of quality for proppant. ASTM even got in on the standard action. Yet, no one is third-party checking proppant manufacturers to ensure the most basic principles of these standards are being followed.

Quite frankly, trusting a mine to provide data on the product you’ve purchased without occasionally checking into the quality of testing and subsequently the data is the very definition of “letting the fox guard the hen house.”

We’ve heard just about every excuse to explain away poor proppant performance and you probably have heard some too.

  • “The proppant isn’t preforming as expected because it’s breaking up being pumped down hole.”
  • “The product is really dusty because it’s getting broken during transport.”

Pure silica sand is the second hardest material on earth second only to diamonds. It has weathered millennia in the elements, undergone metamorphic stresses, rolled around in ancient sea beds and spent thousands of years being blown around expansive desert regions.

If the sand is being processed well and tested for standard compliance prior to leaving the mine site, it should arrive unaltered and in usable condition at your well site. Agitation and friction from transportation, or mixing into a slick water slurry is simply not going to noticeably affect the overall quality.

Material Spec Laboratories has solutions to these concerns. Our laboratory is compliant to ISO 17025 and currently undergoing the process of accreditation. We offer third party testing and audit services to the ISO and API standards.

Our data is certified and confidential. Our audit services are designed to provide oil producers official audit reports for the sand mines they purchase proppant from. The audits will meet the ISO 9001 requirements for risk management and annual audits of vendors providing products and or services to the oil company.

The future of innovation and advancement in proppant development begins with industry wide commitment to quality and standard adoption.

Penny Aschenbrenner is managing director, Material Spec Labs,, a consulting and testing laboratory serving the oil and gas industry.