Recent analysis of gas outflow histories at wellheads shows that the hydraulic crack spacing must be of the order of 0.1 m (rather than 1 m or 10 m). Consequently, the existing models, limited to one or several cracks, are unrealistic. The reality is 105–106 almost vertical hydraulic cracks per fracking stage. Here, we study the growth of two intersecting near-orthogonal systems of parallel hydraulic cracks spaced at 0.1 m, preferably following pre-existing rock joints. One key idea is that, to model lateral cracks branching from a primary crack wall, crack pressurization, by viscous Poiseuille-type flow, of compressible (proppant-laden) frac water must be complemented with the pressurization of a sufficient volume of micropores and microcracks by Darcy-type water diffusion into the shale, to generate tension along existing crack walls, overcoming the strength limit of the cohesive-crack or crack-band model. A second key idea is that enforcing the equilibrium of stresses in cracks, pores and water, with the generation of tension in the solid phase, requires a new three-phase medium concept, which is transitional between Biot’s two-phase medium and Terzaghi’s effective stress and introduces the loading of the solid by pressure gradients of diffusing pore water. A computer program, combining finite elements for deformation and fracture with volume elements for water flow, is developed to validate the new model.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Energy and the subsurface’.
One contribution of 12 to a theme issue ‘Energy and the subsurface’.
- Accepted May 21, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.