During hydraulic fracturing operations in low permeability formations, spontaneous imbibition of fracturing fluid into the rock matrix may be responsible for having a significant impact on the retention of water-based fracturing fluids in the neighborhood of the induced fracture. This may consequently affect the post-frac productivity of the well. However, there is lack of direct quantitative and visual evidence of the extent of retention, evolution of the resulting imbibing fluid front, and how they relate to potential productivity hindrance. In this paper, laboratory experiments have been carefully designed to represent the vicinity of a hydraulic fracture. The evolution of fracturing fluid leak-off is monitored as a function of space and time using X-ray computed tomography (CT). The X-ray CT imaging technique allows us to map saturations at controlled time intervals to monitor the migration of fracturing fluid into the reservoir formation. It is generally expected for low permeability formations to show strong capillary forces due to their small characteristic pore radii, but this driving mechanism is in competition with the low permeability and spatial heterogeneities found in tight gas sands. The relevance of capillarity as a driver of fluid migration and retention in a tight gas sand sample is interpreted visually, quantified and compared with high permeability Berea sandstone in our experiments. It is seen that although these formations demonstrate strong capillarity, the effect can be suppressed by the low permeability of the formation and the heterogeneous nature of the sample. However, saturation values attained during imbibition experiments are comparable to those previously obtained for high permeability samples, which can have significant implications in terms of phase mobilities in the neighborhood of induced fractures. Results from this investigation are expected to provide fundamental insight regarding critical variables affecting the retention and migration of water-based fracturing fluids in the neighborhood of hydraulic fractures, and consequently on the post-frac productivity of the well.

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