Solving three-dimensional problems in natural and hydraulic fracture development : insight from displacement discontinuity modeling
Although many fracture models are based on two-dimensional plane strain approximations, accurately predicting fracture propagation geometry requires accounting for the three-dimensional aspects of fractures. In this study, we implemented 3-D displacement discontinuity (DD) boundary element modeling to investigate the following intrinsically 3-D natural or hydraulic fracture propagation problems: the effect of fracture height on lateral propagation of vertical natural fractures, joint development in the vicinity of normal faults, and hydraulic fracture height growth and non-planar propagation paths. Fracture propagation is controlled by stress intensity factor (SIF) and its determination plays a central role in LEFM. The DD modeling is used to evaluate SIF in Mode I, II and III at the tip of an arbitrarily-shaped embedded crack by using crack-tip element displacement discontinuity. We examine the accuracy of SIF calculation is for rectangular, penny-shaped, and elliptical planar cracks. Using the aforementioned model for lateral propagation of overlapping fractures shows that the curving path of overlapping fractures is strongly influenced by the spacing-to-height ratio of fractures, as well as the differential stress magnitude. We show that the angle of intersection between two non-coincident but parallel en-echelon fractures depends strongly on the fracture height-to-spacing ratio, with intersection angles being asymptotic for "tall" fractures (large height-to-spacing ratios) and nearly orthogonal for "short" fractures. Stress perturbation around normal faults is three-dimensionally heterogeneous. That perturbation can result in joint development at the vicinity of normal faults. We examine the geometrical relationship between genetically related normal faults and joints in various geologic environments by considering a published case study of fault-related joints in the Arches National Park region, Utah. The results show that joint orientation is dependent on vertical position with respect to the normal fault, the spacing-to-height ratio of sub-parallel normal faults, and Poisson's ratio of the media. Our calculations represent a more physically reasonable match to measured field data than previously published, and we also identify a new mechanism to explain the driving stress for opening mode fracture propagation upon burial of quasi-elastic rocks. Hydraulic fractures may not necessarily start perpendicular to the minimum horizontal remote stress. We use the developed fracture propagation model to explain abnormality in the geometry of fracturing from misaligned horizontal wellbores. Results show that the misalignment causes non-planar lateral propagation and restriction in fracture height and fracture width in wellbore part.