Mechanisms of fracture complexity and topology of fracture systems induced by hydraulic fracturing




Zhao, Peidong

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Stimulated reservoir volume (SRV) is a prime factor controlling well performance in unconventional shale plays. In general, SRV describes the topology of induced fractures by hydraulic fracturing. Natural fractures (NFs), such as joints and faults, are ubiquitous in oil and gas reservoirs, where their tectonics, diagenesis, and hydrocarbon-generation history make the rock prone to fracturing. Being a pre-existing weak interface, NFs are preferred failure paths during hydraulic fracturing and becoming conductive under shear slip. Therefore, the interaction of hydraulic fractures (HFs) and NFs is fundamental to fracture growth in a formation. However, field observations of induced fracture systems show the necessity of modeling fracture complexity for improving completion design and interpreting drained reservoir volume (DRV). Thus, this work explains the mechanisms of HF-NF interaction and provides a physics-based method to infer SRV. First, fracture complexity results from fracture-tip processes involving stress perturbation by HF and failure of the pre-existing weak interface. Such so-called HF-NF interactions enable permeability enhancement around the HF and the development of SRV within unconventional shale reservoirs. This work proposes a two-dimensional (2D) analytical workflow to delineate the potential slip zone (PSZ) induced by an HF. An explicit description of failure modes in the near-tip region explains the complexity involved in HF-NF interaction. The results show varying influences of HF-NF relative angle, stress state, net pressure, frictional coefficient, and HF length to the NF slip. An NF at a 30±5° relative angle to an HF is analytically proved to have the highest potential for reactivation, which dominantly depends on the frictional coefficient of the interface. The spatial extension of the PSZ normal to the HF converges as the fracture propagates away and exhibits asymmetry depending on the relative angle. The proposed concept of PSZ can be used to measure and compare the intensity of HF-NF interactions at various geological settings. Second, the intensity of HF-NF interaction has been found to vary by formation and shale play. The problem of HF-NF interaction is multivariant and nonlinear, requiring conditional screening among three failure modes. By considering realistic subsurface conditions, a machine-learning (ML) model (random forest [RF] regression) is built to replicate the physics-based model and statistically investigate parametric influences on NF slip. The ML model finds the statistical significance of predicting features to be in the order of relative angle between HF and NF, fracture gradient (FG), frictional coefficient of the NF, overpressure index, stress differential, formation depth, and net pressure. The ML result is compared with sensitivity analysis and provides a new perspective on HF-NF interaction using statistical measures. The importance of formation depth on HF-NF interaction is stressed in both the physics-based and data-driven models, thus providing insight for field development of stacked resource plays. Finally, previous fracturing models either reduce model flexibility in simulating complex HF-NF interaction or require great computation cost for discrete fracture growth. This work presents a finite discrete-element model, which is a hybrid model adopting numerical setups from both continuum and discontinuous approaches, to investigate multifracture propagation in fractured reservoirs. The numerical model captures the fracture complexity, including branched, stranded, and kinked fractures, as well as the offset crossing of NFs. The results show biased fracture growth in the fractured reservoir, which is different from the numerical results of multifracture propagation in homogeneous rocks.. This work also emphasizes the control of fluid partition at the wellbore and among the intersecting fractures. Fluid partition at the wellbore is found to be a major challenge to the completion design of tight cluster spacing, which has been shown to improve production in recent years.


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