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Effects of mechanical layering on hydrofracture emplacement and fluid transport in reservoirs

DOI: 10.3389/feart.2013.00004

Keywords: hydrofracture propagation, mechanical layering, fluid transport, local stresses, fluid reservoirs, hydrofracture emplacement

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Fractures generated by internal fluid pressure, for example, dykes, mineral veins, many joints and man-made hydraulic fractures, are referred to as hydrofractures. Together with shear fractures, they contribute significantly to the permeability of fluid reservoirs such as those of petroleum, geothermal water, and groundwater. Analytical and numerical models show that—in homogeneous host rocks—any significant overpressure in hydrofractures theoretically generates very high crack tip tensile stresses. Consequently, overpressured hydrofractures should propagate and help to form interconnected fracture systems that would then contribute to the permeability of fluid reservoirs. Field observations, however, show that in heterogeneous and anisotropic, e.g., layered, rocks many hydrofractures become arrested or offset at layer contacts and do not form vertically interconnected networks. The most important factors that contribute to hydrofracture arrest are discontinuities (including contacts), stiffness changes between layers, and stress barriers, where the local stress field is unfavorable to hydrofracture propagation. A necessary condition for a hydrofracture to propagate to the surface is that the stress field along its potential path is everywhere favorable to extension-fracture formation so that the probability of hydrofracture arrest is minimized. Mechanical layering and the resulting heterogeneous stress field largely control whether evolving hydrofractures become confined to single layers (stratabound fractures) or not (non-stratabound fractures) and, therefore, if a vertically interconnected fracture system forms. Non-stratabound hydrofractures may propagate through many layers and generate interconnected fracture systems. Such systems commonly reach the percolation threshold and largely control the overall permeability of the fluid reservoirs within which they develop.


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