Hydraulic fracture propagation in a heterogeneous stress field in a crystalline rock mass

Dutler, Nathan; Valley, Benoît; Gischig, Valentin; Villiger, Linus; Krietsch, Hannes; Doetsch, Joseph; Brixel, Bernard; Jalali, Mohammadreza; Amann, Florian

As part of the In-situ Stimulation and Circulation (ISC) experiment, hydraulic fracturing (HF) tests were conducted in a moderately fractured crystalline rock mass at the Grimsel Test Site (GTS), Switzerland. The aim of these injection tests was to improve our understanding of processes associated with high-pressure fluid injection. A total of six HF experiments were performed in two inclined boreholes; the surrounding rock mass was accessed with 12 observation boreholes, which allows for the high-resolution monitoring of fracture fluid pressure, strain, and microseismicity in an exceptionally well-characterized rock mass. A similar injection protocol was used for all six experiments to investigate the complexity of the fracture propagation processes. At the borehole scale, these processes involved newly created tensile fractures intersecting the injection interval, while at the cross-hole scale, the natural network of fractures dominated the propagation process. The six HF experiments can be divided into two groups based on their injection location (i.e., south or north to a brittle–ductile shear zone), their similarity of injection pressures, and their response to deformation and pressure propagation. The injection tests performed in the south connect upon propagation to the brittle–ductile shear zone. Thus, the shear zone acts as a dominant drain and a constant pressure boundary. The experiments executed north of the shear zone show smaller injection pressures and larger backflow during bleed-off phases. From a seismic perspective, the injection tests show high variability in seismic response independently of the location of injection. For two injection experiments, we observe reorientation of the seismic cloud as the fracture propagated away from the wellbore. In both cases, the main propagation direction is normal to the minimum principal stress direction. The reorientation during propagation is interpreted to be related to a strong stress heterogeneity and the intersection of natural fractures striking differently than the propagating hydraulic fracture. The seismic activity was limited to about 10 m of radial distance from the injection point. In contrast, strain and pressure signals reach further into the rock mass, indicating that the process zone around the injection point is larger than the zone illuminated by seismic signals. Furthermore, strain signals indicate not just single fracture openings but also the propagation of multiple fractures. Transmissivities of injection intervals increase about 2–4 orders of magnitudes.

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Dutler, Nathan / Valley, Benoît / Gischig, Valentin / et al: Hydraulic fracture propagation in a heterogeneous stress field in a crystalline rock mass. 2019. Copernicus Publications.

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