Using the Semi-Circular Bending Test to Investigate the Interaction Between Hydraulic and Natural Fractures

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Weiwei Wang, Jon E Olson and Masa Prodanovic, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX, United States
Micro-seismic data shows that hydraulic fracture propagation is a complex process. When hydraulic fractures interact with pre-existing natural fractures, it can result in a complex fracture network. The interaction depends on in-situ stresses, rock and natural fracture mechanical properties, approach angle and hydraulic fracture treatment parameters. Most simulation studies treat natural fractures as frictional interfaces with cohesive properties. However, from core observation, partially cemented and fully cemented natural fractures are widely present and it is not clear that whether they fit the common description or not.

In this study, semi-circular bending experiments are utilized to examine the fracture propagation paths. Synthetic hydrostone samples with embedded inclusions of different mechanical properties are used to mimic rock and cemented natural fractures. Simulation results are generated using finite element software ABAQUS. The extended finite element method (XFEM) capability of ABAQUS allows the fracture initiation and propagation along a solution dependent path without the need for re-meshing. The simulation results are used to explain the experimental observations.

In a series of experiment and modeling work, we assess the influence of the fracture approach angle, inclusion strength, and inclusion thickness on fracture propagation. Current results indicate the fracture propagation direction is strongly influenced by pre-existing inclusions. The propagating fractures tend to cross the inclusion when the approach angle is high and divert into the inclusion when the approach angle is low. The crossing surface is thus not a clean cut, but with a jog distance that depends on the inclusion thickness and approach angle. Results imply that if hydraulic fractures have lower approach angles to pre-existing natural fractures, the ultimate fracture network is going to have higher complexity. The thickness of natural fractures can also add to the complexity.