Seismic characteristics of tensile fracture growth induced by hydraulic fracturing

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
David W S Eaton1, Mirko Van der Baan2 and Neda Boroumand1, (1)University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada, (2)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
Hydraulic fracturing is a process of injecting high-pressure slurry into a rockmass to enhance its permeability. Variants of this process are used for unconventional oil and gas development, engineered geothermal systems and block-cave mining; similar processes occur within volcanic systems. Opening of hydraulic fractures is well documented by mineback trials and tiltmeter monitoring and is a physical requirement to accommodate the volume of injected fluid. Numerous microseismic monitoring investigations acquired in the audio-frequency band are interpreted to show a prevalence of shear-dominated failure mechanisms surrounding the tensile fracture. Moreover, the radiated seismic energy in the audio-frequency band appears to be a miniscule fraction (<< 1%) of the net injected energy, i.e., the integral of the product of fluid pressure and injection rate.

We use a simple penny-shaped crack model as a predictive framework to describe seismic characteristics of tensile opening during hydraulic fracturing. This model provides a useful scaling relation that links seismic moment to effective fluid pressure within the crack. Based on downhole recordings corrected for attenuation, a significant fraction of observed microseismic events are characterized by S/P amplitude ratio < 5. Despite the relatively small aperture of the monitoring arrays, which precludes both full moment-tensor analysis and definitive identification of nodal planes or axes, this ratio provides a strong indication that observed microseismic source mechanisms have a component of tensile failure. In addition, we find some instances of periodic spectral notches that can be explained by an opening/closing failure mechanism, in which fracture propagation outpaces fluid velocity within the crack. Finally, aseismic growth of tensile fractures may be indicative of a scenario in which injected energy is consumed to create new fracture surfaces. Taken together, our observations and modeling provide evidence that failure mechanisms documented by passive monitoring of hydraulic fractures may contain a significant component of tensile failure, including fracture opening and closing, although creation of extensive new fracture surfaces may be a seismically inefficient process that radiates at sub-audio frequencies.