Hydraulic fracturing optimization : experimental investigation of multiple fracture growth homogeneity via perforation cluster distribution



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Hydraulic fracturing is a reservoir stimulation technique used in the petroleum industry since 1947. High pressure fluid composed mainly of water generates cracks near the wellbore improving the surrounding permeability and enhancing the flow of oil and gas to the surface. Advances in hydraulic fracturing coupled with developments in horizontal drilling, have unlocked vast quantities of unconventional resources, previously believed impossible to be produced. Fracture creation induces perturbations in the nearby in-situ stress regime suppressing the initiation and propagation of other fractures. Neighboring fractures are affected by this stress shadow effect, causing them to grow dissimilarly and they receive unequal portions of the injected fluid. Numerical simulation models have shown that non-uniform perforation cluster distributions with interior fractures closer to the exterior ones can balance out these stress shadow effects, promoting more homogeneous multiple fracture growth compared to uniform perforation cluster distributions. In this work, laboratory-scale tests on three perforation configurations are performed on transparent specimens using distinctly colored fracturing fluids such that fracture growth can be observed. A normal faulting stress regime is replicated with the introduction of an overburden load in a confined space. The results have shown that uniform perforation spacing configurations yields higher degree of fracture growth homogeneity, as maximum spacing minimizes stress shadow effects, compared to moving the middle perforation closer to the toe, or heel of the horizontal well. The experiments also showed a proclivity to form one dominant fracture. Time delay, neglected in most theoretical modelling studies, between fracture initiations is found to be a key parameter and is believed to be one of the major factors promoting this dominant fracture tendency along with wellbore pressure gradients. Moreover, in several cases, the injected bypassed perforation(s) to generate fracture(s) downstream. Finally, the compressibility of the fracturing fluid triggered somewhat unexpected transient pressure behavior. The understanding of the stress shadow effects and what influences them could lead to optimization of hydraulic fracturing treatment design in terms of productivity and cost. Therefore, achieving more homogeneous multiple fracture growth patterns can be pivotal on the economic feasibility of several stimulation treatments.