Use of silica sand as a proppant has grown dramatically over the last decade with the rise in production of unconventional resources. Massive volumes of sand are transported to a wellsite and pneumatically conveyed into frac sanders. After formation fracture, sand is moved from the sanders across conveyers into the blender where it's mixed with fluid for transport downhole. During these operations, a significant amount of silica dust enters the air and onsite personnel are exposed. The dangers of inhaling dust and fine particles have been known for hundreds of years, yet many workers today are still not adequately protected. Silicosis, the most widespread industrial disease, results from exposure to crystalline silica and kills hundreds of workers every year and detrimentally affects the lives of untold more. Historically, many cases of silicosis have been associated with sand blasting, mining, and construction. There is now potential for connections to the hydraulic fracturing industry. Symptoms of silicosis can take 10-15 years to materialize, but once it develops the disease progresses incurably. According to a recent U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study, many frac sites exposure levels exceed, sometimes by a factor of 10, the NIOSH Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) to crystalline silica.
The rapid expansion of the hydraulic fracturing industry has in some places outpaced necessary regulations and equipment for worker safety, especially dust control. A dust collection system has been developed to target sand filling operations where sand particles are likely to be released into the air. With a system in place that aims to contribute to the U.S Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure levels (PELs), the threat of silicosis is significantly reduced from the hydraulic fracture process and unconventional development is made safer for everyone involved. This paper will discuss the dust collection equipment, its deployment and integration with existing equipment, as well as other activities to reduce worker exposure.