Modeling fracture propagation in poorly consolidated sands
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Frac-pack design is still done on conventional hydraulic fracturing models that employ linear elastic fracture mechanics. However it has become evident that the traditional models of fracture growth are not applicable to soft rocks/unconsolidated formations due to elastoplastic material behavior and strong coupling between flow and stress model. Conventional hydraulic fracture models do not explain the very high net fracturing pressures reported in field and experiments and predict smaller fracture widths than expected. The key observations from past experimental work are that the fracture propagation in poorly consolidated sands is a strong function of fluid rheology and leak off and is accompanied by large inelastic deformation and shear failure leading to higher net fracturing pressures. In this thesis a numerical model is formulated to better understand the mechanisms governing fracture propagation in poorly consolidated sands under different conditions. The key issues to be accounted for are the low shear strength of soft rocks/unconsolidated sands making them susceptible to shear failure and the high permeabilities and subsequently high leakoff in these formations causing substantial pore pressure changes in the near wellbore region. The pore pressure changes cause poroelastic stress changes resulting in a strong fluid/solid coupling. Also, the formation of internal and external filtercakes due to plugging by particles present in the injected fluids can have a major impact on the failure mechanism and observed fracturing pressures. In the presented model the fracture propagation mechanism is different from the linear elastic fracture mechanics approach. Elastoplastic material behavior and poroelastic stress effects are accounted for. Shear failure takes place at the tip due to fluid invasion and pore pressure increase. Subsequently the tip may fail in tension and the fracture propagates. The model also accounts for reduction in porosity and permeability due to plugging by particles in the injected fluids. The key influence of pore pressure gradients, fluid leakoff and the elastic and strength properties of rock on the failure mechanisms in sands have been demonstrated and found to be consistent with experimental observations.