The Montney Formation of the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin has emerged as one of the most prolific unconventional resource plays in the North American unconventional space. The authors propose a novel method to better understand the failure mechanics associated with hydraulic fracturing through laboratory testing under true triaxial conditions. This adds essential fundamentals with respect to upscaled field hydraulic fracturing operations in the formation. A representative source rock block recovered from outcrop was prepared into a cube and hydraulically fractured in the laboratory under true triaxial stress conditions. Field outcrop mapping of this quarry has confirmed that samples collected are of the same geological time and spatially equivalent to the source rock (Zelazny et al. 2018). This novel laboratory experiment mimics a single stage open hole hydraulic fracturing using a slickwater system, composed of surfactant, friction reducer, and biocide as the injection fluid. Micro-computed tomography (μCT) scans were used to identify the presence of preexisting fractures and bedding planes. A mini-well was drilled to the center of the cube, parallel to the direction of the minimum principal stress (σ3) and along the strike of the bedding planes, such that there is a 5 mm long down-hole open cavity. The existing true triaxial test system at the University of Toronto was retrofitted to accommodate a custom designed mini-packer system. Stresses were applied hydrostatically, and then differentially until the stress regime, replicating the field observed reservoir depth at about 2 km depth, was reached. The bottom hole was subsequently pressurized by pumping the injection fluid through the mini-packer.
The test was numerically modeled in three-dimensions using the hybrid finite-discrete element method (FDEM) with the mechanical properties input determined through a series of standard laboratory rock mechanics tests discussed within. Post-test μCT of the tested cube revealed a fracture trace, and scan contrast was enhanced by injecting the cube with 5% wt potassium iodide solution. Interestingly, the highest fluid pressure recorded is slightly higher than σ3 whilst the plane of failure is normal to the intermediate principal stress (σ2) direction, which is parallel to the bedding planes. The results of the mechanical tests and hydraulic fracturing under true triaxial stress conditions reveal the significance and dominance of the macroscopic features and material anisotropy in dictating the overall strength and fracture plane orientation. Features which were unaccounted for in classical reservoir mechanics and the numerical model simulation, resulted in higher than predicted fracture initiation and propagation pressures than the laboratory experiment. This laboratory test approach allows a convenient and flexible method to capture the influence of the reservoir stress regime and its interaction with the sample anisotropy. Coupled with numerical simulations that encompass such features, this framework can benefit the industry by reproducing typical behavior observed in the field; thus, enhancing, improving, and increasing the efficiency of hydrocarbon recovery.