The Discovery Science of Hydraulic Fracturing: Innovative Working Fluids and Their Interactions with Rocks, Fractures, and Hydrocarbons
Subsurface Flow and Transport Team Leader, Computational Earth Science
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Shale gas is an unconventional fossil energy resource profoundly impacting US energy independence and is projected to last for at least 100 years. Production of methane and other hydrocarbons from low permeability shale involves hydraulic fracturing of rock, establishing fracture connectivity, and multiphase fluid-flow and reaction processes all of which are poorly understood. The result is inefficient extraction with many environmental concerns. A science-based capability is required to quantify the governing mesoscale fluid-solid interactions, including microstructural control of fracture patterns and the interaction of engineered fluids with hydrocarbon flow. These interactions depend on coupled thermo-hydro-mechanical-chemical (THMC) processes over scales from microns to tens of meters. Determining the key mechanisms in subsurface THMC systems has been impeded due to the lack of sophisticated experimental methods to measure fracture aperture and connectivity, multiphase permeability, and chemical exchange capacities at the high temperature, pressure, and stresses present in the subsurface. In this study, we developed and prototyped the microfluidic and triaxial core flood experiments required to reveal the fundamental dynamics of fracture-fluid interactions. The goal is transformation of hydraulic fracturing from present ad hoc approaches to science-based strategies while safely enhancing production. Specifically, we have demonstrated an integrated experimental/modeling approach that allows for a comprehensive characterization of fluid-solid interactions and develop models that can be used to determine the reservoir operating conditions necessary to gain a degree of control over fracture generation, fluid flow, and interfacial processes over a range of subsurface conditions.