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Application of Extended Finite Element Method (XFEM) to Simulate

Hydraulic Fracture Propagation from Oriented Perforations
Jay Sepehri, PinnacleA Halliburton Service; Mohamed Y. Soliman and Stephen M. Morse, Texas Tech

Copyright 2015, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE Hydraulic Fracturing Technology Conference held in The Woodlands, Texas, USA, 35 February 2015.
This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE program committee following review of information contained in an abstract submitted by the author(s). Contents
of the paper have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material does not necessarily reflect
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Understanding fracture initiation and propagation from perforated wellbores is essential to designing a
perforation scheme to achieve an efficient hydraulic fracture stimulation treatment. The effect of
perforation design on hydraulic fracture propagation has been extensively studied using experimental and
analytical methods. Because the experimental investigation of hydraulic fracture is complicated, expensive, and often returns limited results, numerical methods can be applied as an efficient way to simulate
fracture propagation from perforations. An Extended Finite Element Method (XFEM) was used to develop
a model to investigate the effects of various parameters on fracture propagation from a set of perforations.
These parameters included perforation orientation, perforation length, stress anisotropy, and elastic
properties of the formation. Fracture propagation patterns from the XFEM model were first matched
against published experimental studies and exhibited good agreement. The model was then used to
broaden the study of perforation effects. Results of the modeling proved the effects of perforation
orientation and length on hydraulic fracture propagation pattern. Horizontal stress anisotropy and rock
mechanical properties were observed to strongly influence fracture propagation. It was also observed that,
when two or more perforations are positioned at different orientation angles at the same depth, a fracture
tends to propagate from the less deviated perforation. In these cases, the more deviated perforation can
develop a short fracture, following a propagating pattern that could be caused by stress shadowing/
interference. Stress interference between two perforations positioned closely together results in either
perforation breakdown or fracture propagating away from one another. The simulation results from this
study offer methods to enhance perforation design for hydraulic fracture treatment, particularly in the case
of high stress anisotropy and high uncertainty in a preferred fracture plane. Analyzing competing
perforations suggests that a technique based on this concept can be applied when high uncertainty exists
regarding the direction of the principal horizontal stresses through increasing perforation density.

Because of common well stability issues, isolating wells from unwanted zones, and several other
operational considerations, wellbores are usually cased and then perforated; therefore, the majority of
hydraulic fracturing treatments are performed through perforations. Perforating provides the channel of


communication between the wellbore and the reservoir. In hydraulic fracture treatments, perforations can
serve as an initial fracture to help fracture initiation and control propagation direction. Perforations play
an important role in complex fracture geometries surrounding the wellbore. Initiation of a single wide
fracture and avoiding multiple T-shaped and reoriented fractures from a wellbore is one of the primary
objectives of using perforation techniques.
The objective in terms of the perforating design for fracturing should be choosing perforating
parameters that minimize near-wellbore (NWB) pressure drops during both fracturing operations and
production. Some of these NWB effects are perforation friction, microannulus pinch points from gun
phasing misalignment, multiple competing fractures, and fracture tortuosity caused by a curved fracture
path (Romero et al. 1995). An optimal perforation for fracture propagation would have a minimum
injection pressure, initiate only a single fracture, and generate a fracture with minimum tortuosity at an
achievable fracture initiation pressure (Behrmann and Nolte 1999).
Several studies have investigated the effect of perforations on hydraulic fracture initiation and
propagation. The first work on the effect of perforation on hydraulic fracturing was presented by Daneshy
(1973), who showed that the direction of induced hydraulic fracture is not dictated by perforation
orientation. This work showed that, in many cases, fluid can travel from the perforation through the area
between the casing and formation to initiate a fracture in the direction of maximum horizontal stress.
In an experimental work, El Rabaa (1989) examined effect of different parameters on perforation
design and showed that multiple fractures could be created when the perforated interval was longer than
four times wellbore diameters. Soliman (1990) showed that fracture reorientation can affect the analysis
of microfrac and minifrac tests in horizontal wells. Hallam and Last (1991) recommended that, without
knowledge of the stress directions, a low phasing angle should be used. In another series of laboratory
experiments (Abass et al. 1994 and 1996), the effects of oriented perforations in vertical and horizontal
wells on hydraulic fracturing treatments and sand control were studied. Results of such experiments
showed the relation between the breakdown pressure and hydraulic fracture width and perforation
Experimental investigation of hydraulic fracture is a complicated and expensive process and has
limited results; therefore, numerical methods can be applied as an efficient way to simulate such
phenomena. Numerical simulation of the hydraulic fracturing process is essential to understanding the
complex mechanics of hydraulic fracturing. However, because of the strong nonlinearity in coupling of
the fluid flow inside the fracture and fracture propagation, numerical simulation of hydraulic fracturing
is a very complex problem. This problem gets even more complex considering the existence of natural
fractures, fluid leak off to the formation, and multilayers with varying physical and mechanical properties.
Great effort has been devoted to the numerical simulation of hydraulic fracturing with the first threedimensional (3D) modeling efforts beginning in the late 1970s. Significant progress has been made
developing two-dimensional (2D), pseudo3D, and 3D numerical hydraulic fracture models during the last
several years.
The finite element method (FEM) has been used to model hydraulic fracture propagation in heterogeneous rocks, which can include nonlinear mechanical properties and can be subjected to complex
boundary conditions. However, the FEM requires remeshing after each time step for the mesh to conform
exactly to the fracture geometry as the fracture propagates. This can result in higher computation time and
sometimes convergence problems.
By adding special enriched shape functions and additional degrees of freedom to the standard finite
element approximation, the XFEM overcomes the drawbacks associated with the use of the conventional
FEM and enables the fracture to be represented without meshing fracture surfaces. Therefore, the fracture
geometry is completely independent of the mesh configuration. As a result, remeshing is not necessary,
which results in faster simulation of the fracture propagation. Since the introduction of this method, many
new formulations and applications have appeared in the literature. The XFEM has been used to investigate


hydraulic fracture problems by many authors (Lecampion 2009; Dahi-Taleghani and Olson 2011; Weber
et al. 2013; Chen 2013).
This study focuses on the implementation of XFEM to simulate propagation of hydraulic fractures from
a perforated cased hole. Finite element software with XFEM capability was implemented to investigate
the effects of perforation orientations and the NWB stress regime on induced hydraulic fractures. This
study demonstrates the capabilities of XFEM for solving the complex problems of hydraulic fracture
propagation and observing the effects of perforation orientation on induced fractures. The results from this
study verified with some experimental observations in the literature help provide a better understanding
of the problem and the contributing parameters to help improve hydraulic fracturing treatments.

Extended Finite Element Method

XFEM was developed in 1999 (Mos et al. 1999) as a technique to enhance the capabilities of the
conventional FEM. XFEM is particularly convenient when modeling discontinuities. Compared to FEM,
XFEM provides many improvements for the numerical modeling of fracture propagation. In the traditional
formulation of the FEM, a fracture has to follow element edges. In contrast, the fracture geometry in the
XFEM does not need to be aligned with the element edges, which provides great flexibility. The XFEM
is based on the enrichment of the FEM by adding extra degrees of freedom to the nodes of the elements
cut by the fracture. In this way, the fracture is included in the numerical model without the need to modify
the domain discretization because the mesh is generated completely independent of the fracture. Therefore, only a single mesh is necessary for any fracture length and orientation. In addition, nodes
surrounding the fracture tip are enriched with functions that reproduce the asymptotic fracture tip
behavior. This enables the modeling of the fracture within the fracture-tip elements and increases the
accuracy in terms of the computation of the stress intensity factors.
When a fracture is added to the finite element domain, two different sets of elements affected by the
fracture can be identified: Elements that are completely cut by the fracture and elements that are partially
cut and contain fracture tips. Nodes at these elements are said to be enriched by extra degrees of freedom
(DOF). Those elements, which are completely cut by fractures, are enriched by multiplying their shape
function into Heaviside function H(x), which has unit value and changes the sign as it crosses the crack
and conveys discontinuity across fracture faces.
For those elements that are not completely fractured and contain fracture tips, the Heaviside function
cannot be used to approximate the displacement field in the entire element. For the fracture tip elements,
the enrichment functions are applied. These functions were originally introduced by Fleming et al. (1997)
for use in the element free Galerkin method and adapted by Belytschko and Black (1999) for use in XFEM
formulation. These four functions describe the fracture tip displacement field. The first function is
discontinuous at the fracture tip.

In this equation r, are polar coordinates at the fracture tip. The above functions can reproduce the
asymptotic Mode I and II displacement fields and represent the near-tip singular behavior. By using the
enrichment functions in Eq. 2, four different additional degrees of freedom in each direction for each node


Figure 1Enriched nodes in XFEM domain (Giner et al. 2008).

are added to those related to the finite element formulation. Fig. 1 shows graphically the two types of
enriched nodes in the XFEM domain.
Based on what has been discussed about the enrichment functions, the following expression for the
XFEM displacement approximation can be formulated

Where, J is the set of nodes whose elements is completely cut by the fracture and therefore enriched
with the Heaviside function H(x), K1 and K2 are the sets of nodes containing fracture tips 1 and 2, and
. ui are the standard degrees of freedom, and
fracture tip enrichment functions are
are the vectors of additional nodal degrees of freedom for modeling fracture faces and the two
fracture tips, respectively. Without any enrichment, Eq. 4 reduces to the classical finite element approximation:

Model Setup
The model to study the effect of perforation orientation is based on some experimental studies (Abass et
al. 1994 and 1996). Their laboratory experiments were designed to investigate the effect of perforation
orientation in vertical and horizontal wells on the hydraulic fracturing treatment. Dimensions and
parameters in this study are selected to be similar to the ones in those experiments to be able to cross
reference some of the results.
Rock samples used in those experiments were rectangular blocks of hydrostone (gypsum cement) with
dimensions of 6 6 10 in. These blocks were created from mixing water and hydrostone with a weight
ratio of 32/100, respectively. A wellbore was drilled in the center of the block in the direction of the 10-in.
side. The wellbore was cased and perforated. A series of perforation orientations was considered: 0,


Figure 2Schematic of the simulation model.

Table 1List of parameters used in the simulation model.

15, 30, 45, 60, 75, and 90 from the preferred

6 6 10 in.
fracture plane (PFP). All samples were confined in
Wellbore radius
0.25 in.
a triaxial loading vessel and the principal stresses of
Perforation length
0.25 in.
3,000 psi vertical, 2,500 psi maximum horizontal,
Youngs modulus
2.07 106 psi
and 1,400 psi minimum horizontal stresses were
1400 psi
applied. No pore fluid was present within the samMax. horizontal stress
2500 psi
ple blocks (Abass et al. 1996).
Applied vertical stress
3000 psi
Fig. 2 illustrates a schematic of core sample and
Sample permeability
39 md
Table 1 lists the physical and mechanical properties.
Uniaxial compressive strength
8032 psi
Because the samples used for those experiments
Tensile strength (Brazilian)
807.6 psi
are cut to observe the fracture propagation pattern, it
is a good idea to consider only a 2D model, as
shown in Fig. 2 (right). The 2D model used can save
simulation time and the results can be compared to available photographs taken from the sample after
being cut.
Perforations are created to serve as communication channels between wellbore and formation and to
help decrease breakdown pressure and ease fracture propagation. There are several methods to create a
perforation in a well drilled and cased in the laboratory. For example, Bunger et al. (2004) created a starter
fracture by inserting a rod into the injection tube and striking it firmly with a hammer. Another method
could be by rotating a bent, sharpened rod inside the drill hole to scratch out the material. Unfortunately,
no information is provided on how the wells were perforated in the experiment targeted in the study by
Abass et al. (1994, 1996). In the model used throughout this study, perforations are modeled as initial
fractures extended from wellbore in opposite direction (180 phasing). Two wings are considered to have
the same length and zero initial width and positioned at angle measured from maximum horizontal stress
direction and increasing counterclockwise. No casing or cement is considered in this model; therefore,
fractures are initiated and propagated from the perforation tip. Depending on the perforation length and
orientation, it will take a distance of few wellbore radiuses for the propagating fracture to exit the NWB
region and reorient in the direction of the PFP.

Numerical Results
After the model described was constructed, sensitivity analyses were performed to obtain a better
understanding of hydraulic fracture propagation from perforations and to examine different parameters


Figure 3Fracture reorientation at 45 and 60 compared to the experimental model (photos from Abass et al. 1994).

and design configurations without the need to go through experimental design. In this study, the effects
of perforation angle, perforation length, rock mechanical properties, stress anisotropy, and nearby
discontinuities on fracture propagation from cased hole are investigated and analyzed.
Perforation Angle
Generally, fractures tend to initiate when the applied pressure overcomes the tensile stress at the wellbore
and propagate in the direction of the PFP. When the wellbore is cased and perforated, perforation can help
the initiation of fracture by serving as initial fractures, but the created fracture will not necessarily follow
the orientation provided by the perforation. Once the NWB region is passed, the initiated fracture will
follow the path of least resistance, which is perpendicular to direction of minimum horizontal stress. To
investigate this effect, models with perforation at different angles are built and run. The orientation angle
is measured from the direction of the PFP (which is parallel to the direction of maximum horizontal stress)
in a positive x direction. In all cases, perforations are of the same length, equal to one wellbore radius,
and other properties are kept the same. The results are presented in (Figs. 3 and 4). The result from
orientation angles 45, 60 and 75 and 90 are compared to some photographs from experimental studies
As illustrated in Figs. 3 and 4, there is a very good match between the results from the numerical model
in this study and the experimental models in terms of fracture reorientation pattern. This demonstrates
confidence in the model to perform further simulation. It should be remembered that the experimental
study includes a cement layer behind the casing and, in some cases, including 75 and 90, injected fluid


Figure 4 Fracture reorientation at 75 and 90 compared to the experimental model (photos from Abass et al. 1994).

Table 2Results of perforation angle for different reorientation radii.

Orientation Angle ()

Reorientation Radius (x rw)



has breached through the microannulus fractures in

the cement to find a shorter path toward the PFP.
Because the numerical model is an ideal model
without defect and the effect of loose cement and
casing are not included, that phenomena will not
occur and fractures initiate only from perforations.

Figure 5Effect of orientation angle on reorientation radius.

Reorientation Radius
As fracture propagates away from wellbore, the NWB effects are diminished and fracture reorients to
propagate in the preferred direction. The reorientation pattern is affected by stress distribution around the


Figure 6 Tangential stress around wellbore increases with increasing angle.

Figure 7Tangential Stress at Perforation tip for different angles (L rw).

wellbore. It is estimated that drilling a well will alter initial stress around wellbore over a distance of
approximately two to three times the wellbore radius. Therefore, it takes some distance for fracture to exit
the shadow of this stress change. The distance from wellbore to the point where fracture is completely
aligned with PFP or perpendicular to minimum horizontal stress is called reorientation radius. This
distance varies with orientation angle and is larger for more deviated perforations. Table 2 and Fig. 5
summarize the results of a set of simulations where the reorientation has been measured for different
orientation angles.
The reorientation radius has been estimated graphically; but, as expected, demonstrates an increasing
trend when the orientation angle increases. This is attributed to the effect of stress distribution around the
wellbore. As Figs. 6 through 8 demonstrate, tangential stress around the wellbore is increasing with
increasing . This is also the case at any radius around wellbore. Therefore, it is expected that the NWB


Figure 8 Fracture reorientation affected by stress distribution around wellbore.

effects will extend farther as deviates from the Table 3Results of breakdown pressure for different reorientation
direction of maximum horizontal stress, which imOrientation Angle ()
Reorientation Radius (x rw)
plies that, in higher angles, it takes longer for the
fracture to exit the NWB stress regime.
Breakdown Pressure
The previous simulation set was run several times to
obtain the breakdown pressure. Different pressures
were applied to the model to find the smallest pres90
sure at which the fracture starts to propagate. The
results are presented in Table 3 and plotted in (Fig.
9). As the results of this sensitivity analysis show,
the breakdown pressure increases as the perforation angle increases. This is because higher pressure is
required to overcome the tangential stress at the wellbore in higher angles. Fig. 7 shows plotted tangential
stress for a wellbore of a radius rw 0.00635 m under the maximum and minimum horizontal stress of
2,500 and 1,400 psi. At the tip of perforation (R 2rw), this stress increases, as plotted in Figs. 6 and 7.
Initial Perforation Length
Perforation length is one is the primary parameters to be considered when designing hydraulic fracturing
from cased holes. Typical perforating guns have penetrations of 1 to 30 in. The length of the actual
perforation downhole is a function of the standoff of the perforating gun from the casing. Less standoff
means a longer perforation tunnel, while more standoff results in a shorter perforation length. For this
study, because it deals with a small scale model, perforation length is limited to be in the range of one
quarter to twice wellbore radius. Fig. 10 compares results of simulation for different perforation lengths.
Perforations are all 45 and other parameters are kept constant, except the perforation length changing
from 0.25rw to 2rw.
The initial perforation path affects the direction of fracture growth. As can be observed from Fig. 10,
the longer the perforation length, the longer it takes for the fracture to reorient. This argument is true for
the cases where fractures are only allowed to initiate from the tip of perforations. If casing with cement
with low bounding property were considered in the model and fracture could propagate through
microfractures in the cement, the result would have been different. In that case, the fracture might choose
to propagate through those microfractures because of the friction loss and pressure drop in long



Figure 9 Change in breakdown pressure with perforation angle.

Figure 10 Effect of initial perforation length.

Fig. 11 compares the tangential stress for different perforation lengths. As perforation length increases (larger L/rw), the perforation tip is located
within areas with lower tangential stress, which
means stress to overcome at the tip of perforation is
lower, and this results in the fracture propagating
Mechanical Properties
Youngs modulus is one of the mechanical properties examined in this model to observe its effect on
fracture propagation. Youngs modulus has little
effect on initial stress distribution, but has significant effect on fracture propagation pattern. Increasing Youngs modulus increases the reorientation
Figure 11Variation of tangential stress with perforation length.



Figure 12Effect of Youngs modulus on fracture reorientation.

Figure 13Effects of stress anisotropy (?S SH-Sh).

radius. By increasing the Youngs modulus from 0.2106 to 6106 psi, the reorientation radius has
increased 1.5 fold. Fig. 12 presents the effect of Youngs modulus.
Stress Anisotropy
Stress anisotropy, the difference between maximum and minimum horizontal stress, plays an important
role in fracture propagation pattern. Simulations were performed for different horizontal stresses at a fixed
orientation angle of 45 and Fig. 13 displays the results. As stress anisotropy decreases (increasing Sh),
there is an increasing trend in reorientation radius. The results from this simulation suggest that, in
formations with higher stress anisotropy, the role of perforation orientation becomes more significant.
Higher anisotropy results in rapid changes in fracture direction, and this means increasing tortuosity and
limiting fracture width. Therefore, in higher anisotropy, there is a smaller tolerance on perforation
deviation angle. This should be considered when perforating for hydraulic fracture treatments.
Varying Rock Properties
In this scenario, rock mechanical properties of some sections of the rock sample were considered to be
different and simulations were run again. Fig. 14 presents results. Fracturing from perforations in stiffer



Figure 14 Effect of varying rock properties.

Figure 15Effect of two competing perforations.

rock propagates and reorients before the perforation on the opposite side even initiates a fracture. The
result in Fig. 14 suggests that, if the perforation is positioned at a more fracturable part of the rock, it
creates a higher chance of initiating and propagating a fracture and formations with varying properties can
develop asymmetric one wing fractures.
Competing Perforations
All previous simulations were performed with two perforations positioned at 180 phasing configuration.
Other configurations, such as 120 and 60 are also applied in the field. They are of course on a spiral or
helix configuration. In this model, all of the perforations are applied on a horizontal 2D model.Fig. 15
presents the results for two perforations with smaller phasing.
When two or more perforations are on a plane (assuming perforation at the same depth instead of on
a helix configuration), there is competition between the fractures to propagate. As Fig. 15 demonstrates,
when two perforations exist (15/45, 30/60, or 45/90), a fracture will propagate from the perforation
positioned at a smaller angle from the PFP. This could be because fracture initiation and propagation is



Figure 16 Three competing perforations at 120 phasing.

Figure 17Two competing perforations positioned too closely.

easier from less deviated perforations. In reality, fracture initiated from perforations at close angle may
link up and form one fracture, which would be in the direction of the less deviated perforation.
Also, as can be observed in the case of 30/60 perforations, the initiated fractures propagate away from
one another because of stress interference, which probably results in early screenout of the perforation
with higher deviation angle. The same discussion can be made for three competing fracture in 120
phasing, as Fig. 16 depicts.
The results obtained from simulating competing perforations can have many applications when
designing perforation for hydraulic fracturing. In cases where perforation are not aligned with the PFP
because of a lack of information regarding PFP orientation or because of operational limitations, using the
concept of two or more competing perforations can help increase the chance of developing fractures in the
PFP direction and decreasing tortuosity. Also, by decreasing perforation phasing, there are more chances
for more fractures in an orientation close to the PFP. Although there are always concerns regarding casing
stability in lower phasing angles or higher shot densities, the idea of competing perforation can still be
used by increasing operational efficiency.
It should be noted that perforations cannot be placed too closely to one another. For example,
positioning two perforations at 30 and 45 can result in perforation breakdown, as the results in Fig. 17
suggest. In this case, the stress interference from two perforations will force fracture propagating away
from each other, which would not be a favorable phenomenon. Even if one of these perforations could
result in a fracture propagating, as shown in Fig. 17 on the right, the resulted tortuosity can be very severe
around the wellbore, which could eventually reduce wellbore production performance.

A numerical model was developed using XFEM to investigate hydraulic fracture propagation from
oriented perforations. The primary goal in this study was to highlight and verify the effect of parameters
considered to affect this process as well as emphasize promising capabilities of XFEM for solving



hydraulic fracturing simulation problems. The results for fracture propagation patterns were confirmed to
match the results from published experimental studies and showed good agreement. Then, the verified
model was used to study the effects of different parameters involved in fracture propagation through a
perforated wellbore. Perforation angle from the PFP, perforation length, rock mechanical properties, and
horizontal stress anisotropy were observed to affect the fracture propagation pattern. It was observed that
fractures propagated from more deviated perforations require higher breakdown pressure and tend to
reorient to the PFP direction over larger distances. Changing formation Youngs modulus has little effect
on initial stress distribution around wellbore, but directly affects fracture reorientation radius. In formations with higher stress anisotropy, fractures propagated from perforations reorient over a shorter distance.
This effect is stronger for more deviated perforations. Perforations positioned at the part of formation with
larger Youngs modulus had a greater chance of initiating and propagating a fracture. Therefore, rocks
with varying properties might develop asymmetric one-wing fractures, even if perforated at 180 phasing.
Competition exists between perforations with different orientation angles to develop hydraulic fractures. In these cases, fractures tend to propagate from less deviated perforations and those more deviated
can develop short fractures, propagating away from one another because of stress interference and/or can
cease to propagate over a short distance, which could result in perforation screenout. However, stress
interference between two perforations positioned closely to each other can result in either perforation
breakdown or fractures propagating away from one another.
The findings of this study suggest that, because horizontal stress anisotropy plays an important role in
fracture reorientation radius and consequently tortuosity, in formations with high stress anisotropy, care
must be taken to identify the PFP and avoid perforation in orientations highly deviated from this plane.
Results from competing perforations analysis suggest that this technique can be applied when high
uncertainty exists regarding the direction of maximum and minimum horizontal stress. This technique can
be applied by increasing shot density or a new design of perforation gun to apply multiple perforations
at the same depth.

h, Sh

Minimum horizontal stress

Maximum horizontal stress
Polar coordinate
Vectors for added degrees of freedom
Degree of freedom
Youngs modulus
Crack tip enrichment function
Crack face enrichment function
Perforation length
Shape functions
Preferred fracture plane
Wellbore radius
Finite element part of displacement approximation
Enriched part of displacement function
Extended Finite Element Method

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