Simple models of the hydrofracture process
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Hydrofracturing to recover natural gas and oil relies on the creation of a fracture network with pressurized water. We analyze the creation of the network in two ways. First, we assemble a collection of analytical estimates for pressure-driven crack motion in simple geometries, including crack speed as a function of length, energy dissipated by fluid viscosity and used to break rock, and the conditions under which a second crack will initiate while a first is running. We develop a pseudo-three-dimensional numerical model that couples fluid motion with solid mechanics and can generate branching crack structures not specified in advance. One of our main conclusions is that the typical spacing between fractures must be on the order of a meter, and this conclusion arises in two separate ways. First, it arises from analysis of gas production rates, given the diffusion constants for gas in the rock. Second, it arises from the number of fractures that should be generated given the scale of the affected region and the amounts of water pumped into the rock.