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Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Process of propagating a crack by pumping fluid at relatively high flow rates and pressures Fluid pressure must exceed in-situ stress Coupled fluid flow elasticity crack growth problem
Wellbore h
Fluid Injected

Fracture Dimension

In-situ Stress

H H h Images from: Schlumberger Oilfield Review Rock Mass


Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

in an idealized setting, the in-situ stress can be computed, where v is the vertical stress and h is the horizontal stress:

= gh (density x gravity x depth)

Additional tectonic component will produce a maximum (and minimum) horizontal stress:




A hydraulic fracture will propagate in the v H plane.

Rock layering and the resulting variations in elastic properties with depth, natural fractures, faults, and other features make this much more complicated in real life.

Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Simplifying assumptions:

fracture contained in a linear elastic, isotropic, homogeneous, impermeable body (ignore natural cracks, pores, etc)
crack propagation is steady-state fluid is incompressible

w crack opening

2D Slice

p fluid pressure V crack front velocity


closure in-situ stress


x local coordinate axis

Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Governing equations: linear elasticity describes how the rock (soil) responds to a force or pressure (p) so that we can compute crack aperture (w) between crack faces (edges in 2D slice)

w wp



is the contribution from the external stresses relates the fracture opening to the fluid pressure (function of elastic modulus and Poisson ratio)

w G p wo
where wp = G p

Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Governing equations:

lubrication equation describes how the fluid flows between the crack faces (thin layer of fluid) fluids considered to be incompressible with power-law shear thinning (e.g. hair gel) or Newtonian (e.g. water) flow behavior
w crack opening displacement

w 12

grad p

p fluid pressure
fluid viscosity

q fluid flux

Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Governing equations: mass conservation the volume of fluid pumped into the crack equals the volume of the crack
For domain A, fluid enters/leaves through boundary A and is stocked by increase in fracture aperture with time.

q nd A

w dA t

Q( t )a t

t time Q fluid point source n direction vector

is the boundary between and the front region of the fracture where an 6 asymptotic solution, which describes the singular pressure at the front, holds.

Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Final linear elastic hydraulic fracture (LEHF) solution:
w p d t w3 ( (gradp grad p) d 12 p
(2) 3

V 4/3 d
13 23

Q(t ) p(O)

p is an auxiliary pressure term and (Newtonian) E right hand side represents injection source boundary condition first two terms correspond to elasticity and lubrication third term incorporates asymptotic solution for flow at the fluid front
1/x1/3 V w~x


p~ 1 ( x)1 / 3

Lag Zone

Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Additional solution requirements for propagation:

extension of fracture front is proportional to speed of the fluid

direction of propagation is a function of mode I and II stress intensity factors:

K1 sin( ( x ))

K 2 ( x )(3 cos( ( x )) 1)

v u r

n b t

Crack front point




Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Unique assumptions:

quasi-static propagation of the fracture requires that K1 be equal to fracture toughness (K1c )
LEHF solution results in a singular (order is 1/3) pressure and stress field at the crack front singular stress is physically impossible; solution implies that a fluid lag develops the fluid lag automatically adjusts its length to satisfy the condition that K1 = K1c

additional mass balance requirement: fluid speed at the crack front equals the crack speed

Hydraulic Fracturing Theory

Parameters: known, unknown, stochastic
t pumping time is known Q fluid injection rate is known in-situ stresses known/estimated ? - stochastic rock mass elastic properties known ? - stochastic

fluid viscosity known ? - stochastic

Solving for: p fluid pressures inside crack w crack opening displacements crack dimensions and crack front speed (increment/time)

Hydraulic Fracturing Simulations

A finite element implementation of LEHF solution uses an analytical solution at the crack front to capture the fluid lag (1/3 singular behavior) with regular shell elements elsewhere to capture the coupled behavior.
collapsed solid element



crack front element

Q(t) fluid injection rate boundary of regular elements


Hydraulic Fracturing Simulations

A HF simulation captures a series of geometry snapshots as the crack grows; pumping time is computed for each increment of crack growth.
fracture radius (m)



100 200 8 e-5

Loramec is a fully-coupled 2D and axisymmetric FE code from Schlumberger

radial crack geometry

0.01 0

pumping time (sec)

fluid pressure (MPa)

30 6 20

Loramec assumes a wellbore radius


HYFRANC3D * Loramec
0.02 0.04

Results: along a radial line from the crack center at the final time stage

COD (m)

4 2 0

HYFRANC3D * Loramec

radial location of node (m)

radial location of node12 (m)



Hydraulic Fracturing Simulations

A HF simulation must be able to capture the 3D fracture propagation.


wellbore displacement (microns)

120 80

HYFRANC3D experiment

0 3000 3500 4000 pumping time (s) 4500 13

Weijers, 1995

Hydraulic Fracturing Applications

Environmental remediation
Magma intrusions
Dense Georgia Red Clay

Loose Georgia Red Clay

Cracks in dams