Laboratory Visualization Experiments of Temperature-induced Fractures Around a Borehole (Cryogenic Fracturing) in Shale and Analogue Rock Samples

Friday, 19 December 2014
Timothy J Kneafsey1, Seiji Nakagawa1, Yu-Shu Wu2 and Sumit Mukhopadhyay1, (1)Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, United States, (2)Colorado School of Mines, Golden, CO, United States
In tight shales, hydraulic fracturing is the dominant method for improving reservoir permeability. However, injecting water-based liquids can induce formation damage and disposal problems, thus other techniques are being sought. One alternative to hydraulic fracturing is producing fractures thermally, using low-temperature fluids (cryogens). The primary consequence of thermal stimulation is that shrinkage fractures are produced around the borehole wall. Recently, cryogenic stimulation produced some promising results when the cryogen (typically liquid nitrogen and cold nitrogen gas) could be brought to reservoir depth. Numerical modeling also showed possible significant increases in gas production from a shale reservoir after cryogenic stimulation. However, geometry and the dynamic behavior of these thermally induced fractures under different stress regimes and rock anisotropy and heterogeneity is not yet well understood.

Currently, we are conducting a series of laboratory thermal fracturing experiments on Mancos Shale and transparent glass blocks, by injecting liquid nitrogen under atmospheric pressure into room temperature blocks under various anisotropic stress states. The glass blocks allow clear optical visualization of fracture development and final fracturing patterns. For the shale blocks, X-ray CT is used to image both pre-existing and induced fractures. Also, the effect of borehole orientation with respect to the bedding planes and aligned preexisting fractures is examined.

Our initial experiment on a uniaxially compressed glass block showed fracturing behavior which was distinctly different from conventional hydraulic fracturing. In addition to tensile fractures in the maximum principal stress directions, the thermal contraction by the cryogen induced (1) chaotic, spalling fractures around the borehole wall, and (2) a series of disk-shaped annular fractures perpendicular to the borehole. When applied to a horizontal borehole, the propagation plane of the latter fractures can be aligned with the maximum-and-intermediate stress plane, which allows creation of “seed” fractures for efficient, subsequent growth of borehole-perpendicular hydraulic fractures, without near-borehole perturbation on the fracture orientation.