Deep shale gas reservoirs are characterized by high in-situ stresses, a high horizontal-stress difference (12 MPa), development of bedding seams and natural fractures, and stronger plasticity than shallow shale. All of these factors hinder the extension of hydraulic fractures and the formation of complex fracture networks. Conventional hydraulic-fracturing techniques (that use a single fluid, such as guar fluid or slickwater) do not account for the initiation and propagation of primary fractures and the formation of secondary fractures induced by the primary fractures. For this reason, we proposed an alternating-fluid-injection hydraulic-fracturing treatment. True triaxial hydraulic-fracturing tests were conducted on shale outcrop specimens excavated from the Shallow Silurian Longmaxi Formation to study the initiation and propagation of hydraulic fractures while the specimens were subjected to an alternating fluid injection with guar fluid and slickwater. The initiation and propagation of fractures in the specimens were monitored using an acoustic-emission (AE) system connected to a visual display. The results revealed that the guar fluid and slickwater each played a different role in hydraulic fracturing. At a high in-situ stress difference, the guar fluid tended to open the transverse fractures, whereas the slickwater tended to activate the bedding planes as a result of the temporary blocking effect of the guar fluid. On the basis of the development of fractures around the initiation point, the initiation patterns were classified into three categories: (1) transverse-fracture initiation, (2) bedding-seam initiation, and (3) natural-fracture initiation. Each of these fracture-initiation patterns had a different propagation mode. The alternating-fluid-injection treatment exploited the advantages of the two fracturing fluids to form a large complex fracture network in deep shale gas reservoirs; therefore, we concluded that this method is an efficient way to enhance the stimulated reservoir volume compared with conventional hydraulic-fracturing technologies.

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