Coupled Fracture and Flow in Shale in Hydraulic Fracturing

Monday, 15 December 2014
James W Carey, Hiroko Mori and Hari Viswanathan, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM, United States
Production of hydrocarbon from shale requires creation and maintenance of fracture permeability in an otherwise impermeable shale matrix. In this study, we use a combination of triaxial coreflood experiments and x-ray tomography characterization to investigate the fracture-permeability behavior of Utica shale at in situ reservoir conditions (25-50 oC and 35-120 bars). Initially impermeable shale core was placed between flat anvils (compression) or between split anvils (pure shear) and loaded until failure in the triaxial device. Permeability was monitored continuously during this process. Significant deformation (>1%) was required to generate a transmissive fracture system. Permeability generally peaked at the point of a distinct failure event and then dropped by a factor of 2-6 when the system returned to hydrostatic failure. Permeability was very small in compression experiments (< 1 mD), possibly because of limited fracture connectivity through the anvils. In pure share experiments, shale with bedding planes perpendicular to shear loading developed complex fracture networks with narrow apertures and peak permeability of 30 mD. Shale with bedding planes parallel to shear loading developed simple fractures with large apertures and a peak permeability as high as 1 D. Fracture systems held at static conditions for periods of several hours showed little change in effective permeability at hydrostatic conditions as high as 140 bars. However, permeability of fractured systems was a function of hydrostatic pressure, declining in a pseudo-linear, exponential fashion as pressure increased. We also observed that permeability decreased with increasing fluid flow rate indicating that flow did not follow Darcy’s Law, possibly due to non-laminar flow conditions, and conformed to Forscheimer’s law. The coupled deformation and flow behavior of Utica shale, particularly the large deformation required to initiate flow, indicates the probable importance of activation of existing fractures in hydraulic fracturing and that these fractures can have adequate permeability for the production of hydrocarbon.