Analysis of hydraulic fracture propagation in fractured reservoirs : an improved model for the interaction between induced and natural fractures

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Dahi Taleghani, Arash

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Large volumes of natural gas exist in tight fissured reservoirs. Hydraulic fracturing is one of the main stimulating techniques to enhance recovery from these fractured reservoirs. Although hydraulic fracturing has been used for decades for the stimulation of tight gas reservoirs, a thorough understanding of the interaction between induced hydraulic fractures and natural fractures is still lacking. Recent examples of hydraulic fracture diagnostic data suggest complex, multi-stranded hydraulic fracture geometry is a common occurrence. The interaction between pre-existing natural fractures and the advancing hydraulic fracture is a key condition leading to complex fracture patterns. Large populations of natural fractures that exist in formations such as the Barnett shale are sealed by precipitated cements which could be quartz, calcite, etc. Even though there is no porosity in the sealed fractures, they may still serve as weak paths for fracture initiation and/or for diverting the path of the growing hydraulic fractures. Performing hydraulic fracture design calculations under these complex conditions requires modeling of fracture intersections and tracking fluid fronts in the network of reactivated fissures. In this dissertation, the effect of the cohesiveness of the sealed natural fractures and the intact rock toughness in hydraulic fracturing are studied. Accordingly, the role of the pre-existing fracture geometry is also investigated. The results provide some explanations for significant differences in hydraulic fracturing in naturally fractured reservoirs from non-fractured reservoirs. For the purpose of this research, an extended finite element method (XFEM) code is developed to simulate fracture propagation, initiation and intersection. The motivation behind applying XFEM are the desire to avoid remeshing in each step of the fracture propagation, being able to consider arbitrary varying geometry of natural fractures and the insensitivity of fracture propagation to mesh geometry. New modifications are introduced into XFEM to improve stress intensity factor calculations, including fracture intersection criteria into the model and improving accuracy of the solution in near crack tip regions. The presented coupled fluid flow-fracture mechanics simulations extend available modeling efforts and provide a unified framework for evaluating fracture design parameters and their consequences. Results demonstrate that fracture pattern complexity is strongly controlled by the magnitude of in situ stress anisotropy, the rock toughness, the natural fracture cement strength, and the approach angle of the hydraulic fracture to the natural fracture. Previous studies (mostly based on frictional fault stability analysis) have concentrated on predicting the onset of natural fracture failure. However, the use of fracture mechanics and XFEM makes it possible to evaluate the progression of fracture growth over time as fluid is diverted into the natural fractures. Analysis shows that the growing hydraulic fracture may exert enough tensile and/or shear stresses on cemented natural fractures that they may be opened or slip in advance of hydraulic fracture tip arrival, while under some conditions, natural fractures will be unaffected by the hydraulic fracture. A threshold is defined for the fracture energy of cements where, for cases below this threshold, hydraulic fractures divert into the natural fractures. The value of this threshold is calculated for different fracture set orientations. Finally, detailed pressure profile and aperture distributions at the intersection between fracture segments show the potential for difficulty in proppant transport under complex fracture propagation conditions. Whether a hydraulic fracture crosses or is arrested by a pre-existing natural fracture is controlled by shear strength and potential slippage at the fracture intersections, as well as potential debonding of sealed cracks in the near-tip region of a propagating hydraulic fracture. We introduce a new more general criterion for fracture propagation at the intersections. We present a complex hydraulic fracture pattern propagation model based on the Extended Finite Element Method as a design tool that can be used to optimize treatment parameters under complex propagation conditions.