Fabric protection for frac sand

October 1st, 2015 / By: / Features, Resources, Structure Basics

Source Energy Services’ sand storage facility in Alberta, Canada, constructed by Legacy Building Solutions Inc., can receive several unit trains monthly, each usually carrying more than 10,000 tons of material. Photo: Legacy Building Solutions
Source Energy Services’ sand storage facility in Alberta, Canada, constructed by Legacy Building Solutions Inc., can receive several unit trains monthly, each usually carrying more than 10,000 tons of material. Photo: Legacy Building Solutions

A fast-growing industry relies on fabric architecture for a long-term, large-format storage facility.

Wind and sand are like oil and water; they don’t mix. When Source Energy Services (SES), Eau Claire, Wis., enlisted the assistance of Legacy Building Solutions Inc., South Haven, Minn., to build the largest regional frac sand storage facility in Alberta, Canada, it needed to take the province’s gusting winds into consideration.

SES is one of North America’s largest producers of silica sand. The company annually produces more than 2 million tons of it, which is delivered throughout Canada and the United States. The sand is primarily used for oil and gas extraction from shale plays. The relatively new widespread adoption of this technology has created areas that lack sufficient infrastructure to support the high level of extraction activity taking place. Many production and support companies are growing so fast that they rely on temporary or makeshift buildings to store their equipment and the silica sand.

SES wanted a building solution at their Wembley, Alberta, Canada, location that could be erected quickly, but that also met the company’s long-term goals and high-quality standards.

Bigger is better

One of the company’s primary goals was to create a building that would be big enough to store thousands of tons of sand as well as protect it, along with the company’s equipment, from gusting winds.

“We have a ‘tank farm’ utilizing 300-ton tanks about 25 kilometers away that was a transload storage facility for many suppliers,” says Mike Miller, vice president of construction for SES. “However, as drillers have been facilitating larger fracs, silos or tank transloads don’t have capacity to fill those needs. The facility in Wembley is designed to be a reliable source of sand.”

To meet its timeline and quality goals, SES decided to contract the construction of a tension fabric structure. The company worked with Legacy to design, engineer and build the storage facility.

“We were impressed by Legacy’s engineering team,” Miller says. “They are unique among fabric buildings in that they build on a solid steel frame. Everything looked good, from the eave and ridge ventilation system to the method for installing fabric panels. Combined with material delivery and construction times, Legacy was the perfect choice.”

The finished building allowed full use of its nearly 3 million cubic feet of storage volume. The main body of the fabric structure measures 140 by 480 feet, with three lean-to sections measuring 60 by 40, 60 by 80 and 24 by 200 feet, respectively—a total of 79,200 square feet. An offset peak and varying leg heights further characterize the building. The facility can receive several unit trains monthly, each carrying more than 10,000 tons of material. Most transload distribution centers in the area currently provide about 2,000 tons for an oil or gas frac.

“SES came to us with a specific need, and our team created the entire building around their specifications,” says Ben Fox, president and CEO of Legacy. “This building is a great example of quick delivery and customization.”

The fire-rated, high density polyethylene roof allows abundant daylight to permeate the structure. Photo: Legacy Building Solutions
The fire-rated, high density polyethylene roof allows abundant daylight to permeate the structure. Photo: Legacy Building Solutions

The fabric

Legacy used a laminated 26 mil.,14.6-oz. high-density polyethylene (HDPE) fabric manufactured by Intertape Polymer Group (IPG), Columbia, S.C., for the building. The fabric was installed on a rigid steel frame structure, which provided stability and the ability for SES to install an overhead conveyor system that ran the length of the building’s interior.

“When we were looking for structures to build at the site, we found that a fabric building is the fastest to erect,” Miller says. “You just can’t erect one faster with any other material. Legacy came up to our job site in April and had the entire steel frame standing in one day. That saved us a month in construction time alone.”

Miller also points out that the HDPE fabric allows the building to take advantage of natural light and ventilation. “In northern Alberta in the summer the sun stays high for a long time, so we take full advantage of light,” he says. “We believe naturally lit areas are good for worker morale. And it saves on our facility operating cost. Legacy built all of the fabric panels to fit the frame using keder tracks so that every 20 feet or so the fabric slides right into the track. There were also straps attached to the bottom of the panels that were pulled tight at the base to stretch the fabric as they pulled it down.”

Efficient layout

The building was designed for efficiency, both for storage and access. A drive aisle connects the building’s core and allows easy access to stockpiles. Feed hoppers are located in lean-to spaces on the periphery of the building, and a third lean-to provides a heated shop space with lined walls and infrared heating units. In addition, access doors measuring 18 by 18 feet provide sufficient clearance for skid steers and loaders to enter and exit the building.

The facility opened on schedule in June 2014, despite a rough winter that set SES’s concrete contractor behind on foundation installation. “Legacy saved us over 30 days of downtime,” Miller says. “They stood the structural frames in a single day, and everything was completed within five weeks.”

According to Miller, SES is gearing up to build another facility in Alberta and plans to contract Legacy again.

Fox points out that Legacy’s recent IOS 9001:2008 certification will help the company streamline design and construction. “Our ability to deliver on a dime has increased,” he says.

Jake Kulju is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minn.

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