Studying Cryogenic Fracturing Process and Fracture Morphology using Transparent Specimens

Friday, 19 December 2014
Minsu Cha1, Xiaolong Yin1, Timothy J Kneafsey2, Yu-Shu Wu1, Naif Alqahtani1, Taylor Patterson1, Bowen Yao1 and Jennifer Miskimins1, (1)Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, United States, (2)Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, United States
Cryogenic fracturing exploits thermal gradient and resulting local tensile stress to initiate fractures / cracks on a surface exposed to cryogenic fluids. This study investigates the development and morphology of cracks generated from cryogenic thermal shock in a borehole geometry.

The study evaluates cryogenic thermal shock under no external confining stress to specimens. To better understand this process in a geometry relevant to applications, a borehole was drilled through transparent acrylic specimens representing a wellbore. This borehole was partially cased with stainless steel tubing set by a high yield epoxy. Liquid nitrogen was injected into the wellbore through a stainless steel tube. The pressure was low (< 10 psia) and the fractures were initiated by the thermal shock; these initiated fractures allowed further penetration of the cryogen, which helped to propagate fractures throughout the specimen.

A major advantage of performing this experiment in a transparent cryogenic specimen is the ability to observe fracture proliferation through time. It is observed that fracture growth was characterized by abrupt starts and stops, which suggest that the tensile stress generated inside the borehole must reach a certain threshold for fracture initiation and growth. Two distinctive patterns in crack development were observed: one is horizontal-planar-radial pattern created by longitudinal thermal contraction, and another is vertical cracks by circumferential contraction. The horizontal cracks appeared to be spaced by a certain length, known as the exclusion distance, which exists because a set of cracks cannot be created closer than a certain length due to limited amount of thermal contraction. The vertical tension cracks tend to initiate between the horizontal radial cracks and bridge them, as it may be energy-efficient to start from and propagate to existing defects.