There is accepted evidence that multistage fracturing of horizontal wells in shale reservoirs results in significant production variation from perforation cluster to perforation cluster. Typically, between 30 and 40% of the clusters do not significantly contribute to production while the majority of the production comes from only 20 to 30% of the clusters.

Based on numerical modeling, laboratory and field experiments, we investigate the process of simultaneously initiating and propagating several hydraulic fractures. In particular, we clarify the interplay between the impact of perforation friction and stress shadow on the stability of the propagation of multiple fractures. We show that a sufficiently large perforation pressure drop (limited entry) can counteract the stress interference between different growing fractures. We also discuss the robustness of the current design practices (cluster location, limited entry) in the presence of characterized stress heterogeneities.

Laboratory experiments highlight the complexity of the fracture geometry in the near-wellbore region. Such complex fracture path results from local stress perturbations around the well and the perforations, as well as the rock fabric. The fracture complexity (i.e., the merging of multiple fractures and the reorientation towards the preferred far-field fracture plane) induces a strong nonlinear pressure drop on a scale of a few meters. Single entry field experiments in horizontal wells show that this near-wellbore effect is larger in magnitude than perforation friction and is highly variable between clusters, without being predictable. Through a combination of field measurements and modeling, we show that such variability results in a very heterogeneous slurry rate distribution; and therefore, proppant intake between clusters during a stage, even in the presence of limited entry techniques. We also note that the estimated distribution of proppant intake between clusters appears similar to published production log data.

We conclude that understanding and accounting for the complex fracture geometry in the near-wellbore is an important missing link to better engineer horizontal well multistage completions.

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