Abstract: Enhanced reservoir connectivity generally requires maximizing the intersection between hydraulic fracture (HF) and preexisting underground natural fractures (NF), while having the hydraulic fracture cross the natural fractures (and not arrest). We have studied the interaction between a hydraulic fracture and a polished saw-cut fault. The experiments include a hydraulic fracture initiating from a pressurized axial borehole (using water) that approaches a dry fault that is inclined at an angle θ with respect to the borehole axis. The experiments are conducted on Poly(methyl) Meta Acrylate (PMMA) and Solnhofen limestone, a finely grained (<5 μm grain), low permeability (<10 nD) carbonate. The confining pressure in all experiments is 5 MPa, while the differential stress (1-80 MPa) and approach angle, θ (30, 45, 60, 90°) are experimental variables. During the hydraulic fracture, acoustic emissions (AE), slip velocity, slip magnitude, stress drop and pore pressure are recorded at a 5 MHz sampling rate. A Doppler laser vibrometer measures piston velocity outside the pressure vessel to infer fault slip duration and a strain gauge adjacent to the saw-cut provides a near-field measure of axial stress.
For PMMA, the coefficient of friction was 0.30 and sliding was unstable (stick-slip). The approaching HF in PMMA created a tensile fracture detected by AE transducers ~100 μs before the significant stick-slip event (45% stress drop and slip velocity of ~60 mm/s) and was arrested by the fault at all fault orientations and differential stresses, even at 90° fault orientation and 80 MPa differential stress. For Solnhofen limestone, we observed stable sliding at a coefficient of friction of 0.12. In contrast to PMMA, the HF in Solnhofen consistently crossed to the other side of the fault. When the HF crossed the fault, it produced a small stress drop (<10%) and slip velocity of only 0.5 mm/s. Theoretical models by Blanton (1986) and Renshaw and Pollard (1995) predict that HF will be arrested for Solnhofen limestone and cross PMMA 90° fault at 80 MPa differential stress. Although the exact cause for the discrepancy between experiments and the theory is not known, one feature present in the experiments but not considered in the models, is the diffusion of fluid driven by the fault slip. Thus, the formation of a "fluid-filled patch" on the fault surface as it is intersected by the HF may substantially impact the crossing/arrest behavior. The approach angle and differential stress also influence the HF initiation azimuth and breakdown pressure. In most cases, the HF initiation azimuth was normal to the fault strike. These observations suggest that the presence of natural fractures could result in rotation of hydraulic fractures to be more normal to their strike and a subsequent change in the downhole pressure recordings. The latter could be used as a diagnostic tool for predicting this interaction.
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