Much work has been done on hydraulic-fracturing as a well stimulation technique but our understanding of formation damage due to fracturing is limited. This is due to inherent complexity of shale-water interactions under subsurface conditions. Damage is triggered by cold and low-salinity water invasion into the formation. Here, we introduce the formation damage mechanisms as a multi-physics/chemistry problem developing in a region near the fracture-matrix interface. Using high-resolution flow simulation models, we investigate the mechanisms and their impact on natural gas production.

The simulation model includes geo-mechanically fully coupled non-isothermal multi-component two-phase flow equations that are developed for a multi-scale porous medium representative of the shale formations. We consider the occurrence of formation damage during two consecutive periods: well shut-in period which is considered to begin with the completion of fracturing and extending 1-2 days; followed by water flow-back and gas production period which takes months.

During the early shut-in period, cold water invasion leads to thermal contraction of the matrix and reduces the normal mean stress. These changes improve the formation permeability temporarily, they may create secondary fractures, and modify the capillary pressure and saturations in the water invaded zone. These thermal effects are reduced rapidly, however, due to heat supplied by the reservoir. Osmosis pressure and the associated clay swelling cause the formation matrix to absorb fracturing water, reduce the matrix permeability, and amplify the capillary pressure/saturations. In summary, the well goes to the flowback and production with modified near-fracture conditions. During the water flowback the water saturation near the fracture-matrix interface increases; hence, liquid blockage effect on the gas flow becomes larger than that predicted based on the water imbibition during the shut-in only. This is due to capillary-end-effect developing near the interface during the water flow-back, when the fracturing water is displaced by the gas, i.e., drainage. Clay swelling and stress change continue during the withdrawal of the fluids. Consequently, we observe significant impairment in gas production rates.

Only a fraction (<20%) of the injected water is ultimately produced back from the shale gas wells; the rest stays in the fractures and invades into the formation. Our simulation work shows that it is mainly the water in the fractures that are produced. The rest stays in the fractures due to relative permeability effects therein, and in the matrix as capillary-bound water due capillary end effect and to clay-swelling.

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