Impact of normal stress on multiphase flow through rough fractures
Abstract:Fluid flow and transport through geologic fractures plays a key role in several areas such as groundwater hydrology, geothermal energy, oil and gas production, CO2 sequestration and nuclear waste disposal. High-permeability zones associated with fracture corridors often serve as fast fluid conduits for both single and multiphase flow in otherwise low-permeability media. When multiphase flow occurs, the presence of one phase interferes with the flow of the other phase, resulting in complex displacement patterns through the fracture, and macroscopic descriptors (such as fracture-scale capillary pressure and relative permeability) that depend on the phase concentration of both phases.
Here, we investigate the impact of normal stress on single and multiphase flow through rough-walled fractures: (1) we generate synthetic aperture fields that honor the fractal roughness structure observed in real fractures; (2) we model the effect of normal stress on the fracture aperture geometry by solving the contact problem between fracture walls; and (3) we use invasion percolation with trapping to model immiscible fluid displacement and then compute relative permeability numerically for each stress scenario. Our results indicate that normal stress increases the amount of contact area in the fracture wall, which results in an increase of the tortuosity of the available path for fluid displacement. Increasing normal stress results in low relative permeability for the wetting phase due to a decrease of the available path for fluid flow, and therefore a small amount of non-wetting fluid has a large impact on the flow of the wetting fluid. We find that the relative permeability of the non-wetting fluid shows less variation with stress than the wetting fluid, and that both fluids exhibit strong phase interference at intermediate saturations.