Influence of Rock Fabric on Hydraulic Fracture Propagation: Laboratory Study
Abstract:Massive hydraulic fracturing is required for commercial gas production from unconventional reservoirs. These reservoirs are often highly fractured and heterogeneous, which may cause significant fracture complexity and also arrest propagation of hydraulic fractures, leading to production decrease. One of the goals of our study was to investigate the influence of rock fabric features on near-wellbore fracture geometry and complexity. We performed a series of laboratory tests on Niobrara outcrop shale blocks with dimensions of 30 x 30 x 36 inches in a true-triaxial loading frame. Acoustic Emission (AE) technique was applied to monitor hydraulic fracture initiation and dynamics of fracture propagation. After the tests, the shape of the created hydraulic fracture was mapped by goniometry technique. To estimate fracture aperture, particles of different sizes were injected with fracturing fluid.
In all tests, AE analysis indicated hydraulic fracture initiation prior to breakdown or the maximum of wellbore pressure. In most tests, AE analysis revealed asymmetrical hydraulic fracture shapes. Post-test analysis demonstrated good correspondence of AE results with the actual 3D shape of the fracture surface map. AE analysis confirmed that in some of these tests, the hydraulic fracture approached one face of the block before the maximum wellbore pressure had been reached. We have found that in such cases the propagation of hydraulic fracture in the opposite direction was arrested by the presence of mineralized interfaces. Mapping the distribution of injected particles confirmed the creation of a narrow-width aperture in the vicinity of pre-existing interfaces, restricting fracture conductivity. Based on the results of our study, we concluded that the presence of planes of weakness, such as mineralized natural fractures, can result in the arrest of hydraulic fracture propagation, or in poor fracture geometries with limited aperture, that in turn could lead to high net pressure and low fracture conductivity, restricted proppant delivery, and decreased production.