Channel fracturing combines geomechanical modeling, intermittent proppant pumping and degradable fibers and fluids to attain heterogeneous placement of proppant within a hydraulic fracture. The aim of this well stimulation technique is to promote the formation of stable voids or streaks within the proppant pack which serve as highly conductive channels for transport of oil and gas throughout the hydraulic fracture.

More than 10,000 channel fracturing treatments have been performed in over 1,000 wells during the last three years in shale-, carbonate-, and sandstone-rich reservoirs worldwide. The collective dataset on job execution and well performance shows the following trends: (a) low occurrence of near wellbore screen-outs (>99.9% of all treatments achieving 100% proppant placement); (b) reduction in the amount of proppant required to complete treatments (in average, 43% less proppant than conventional techniques aiming at placing a homogeneous proppant pack as implemented in offset wells); (c) average initial and long-term well productivity and flowing pressures consistently meeting or exceeding those of wells completed with conventional fracturing techniques.

This paper summarizes findings from a comprehensive technical study focused on ascertaining the enabling mechanisms for these trends. Results from laboratory experiments (large-scale slot flow, conductivity, proppant settling), yard tests (well site delivery characteristics, proppant slug integrity), and well performance evaluations (surface treatment data, well production data and reservoir simulations supported by history matching) are analyzed collectively to reach the following assessments: (a) heterogeneous proppant placement is achieved; (b) the low incidence of screen-outs is the result of the combination of reduced usage of proppant and intermittent pumping of proppant-free, fiber-laden slugs ("sweeps") which mitigate accumulation of proppant in the near-wellbore area; (c) well productivity trends are driven by the concomitant occurrence of enhanced fracture conductivity - enabled by the presence of heterogeneities within the proppant pack- and the development of larger fractured area within the reservoir effectively contributing to production. The development of larger effective contact area is enabled by the use of fibers, which enhance proppant transport within the fracture and mitigate proppant settling.

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