Complex fracture networks are formed when hydraulic fractures grow in naturally fractured reservoirs. Current planar fracture models are inadequate for capturing the effect of natural fractures on fracture propagation and addressing the important question of optimum fracture spacing and well spacing. Stress interference due to three-dimensional fracture networks can result in intricate fracture geometries, which are usually neglected by fracture models. In this paper, we present a three-dimensional hydraulic fracturing simulator that models the deformation and stress fields induced by both the dilation and shear failure of all existing and propagating hydraulic or natural fractures. It is shown that the simulator allows us to capture the complex fracture geometries, and microseismic signatures often observed in heterogeneous and naturally fractured rocks.

Fracture geomechanics is modeled in a computationally efficient manner using a fully three-dimensional displacement discontinuity method. The simulator captures the physics of fracture growth, fracture turning, fluid distribution in fracture networks, and the intersection of hydraulic fractures with pre-existing natural fractures. The model captures the interaction between multiple branches of a hydraulic fracture (stress shadow effect). The model also simulates the shear failure of hydraulically disconnected natural fractures to simulate microseismic activity and can account for the effect of shear failure and slippage along bed boundaries and along natural fractures on hydraulic fracture propagation.

The effect of pre-existing natural fracture density and orientation on the geometry of the fracture network generated is systematically studied. It is shown that natural fractures play an important role in determining the propagation direction of hydraulic fractures and this effect is quantified. At high natural fracture density, the propagation direction of a hydraulic fracture is dominated by the orientation of natural fractures rather than the far field stress magnitude and direction. The density of the natural fractures also affects the complexity of the final created fracture geometry.

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