Understanding the effect of natural fractures on the propagation of a hydraulic fracture has challenged the fracturing community for a very long time. Nearly all previous investigations address the problem with the assumption that the natural and hydraulic fractures are all vertical and basically two-dimensional. While it is realistic to assume that the hydraulic fractures are vertical, the natural fractures have random orientations, and many of them are not in a vertical plane.
This paper offers a first look at the 3D interactions between a vertical hydraulic fracture and randomly oriented natural fractures. It computes the stresses acting on the natural fractures induced by the three in-situ principal stresses plus an actively growing hydraulic fracture. It shows that as the inclination of the natural fracture with respect to the vertical plane increases, the chances of its activation by a hydraulic fracture diminishes, with a horizontal natural fracture having a very low chance of activation.
Natural fractures are divided into three general groups; open, closed unbonded, and closed bonded. Activation of each of these general groups are reviewed separately and factors that control the process are identified and discussed.
Paper shows that when an advancing hydraulic fracture intersects an open natural fracture, the initial result is local fracture arrest. Next, the hydraulic fracture grows three-dimensionally around the natural fracture and joins it from the opposite side. Continuous three-dimensional growth of the hydraulic fracture increases the fluid pressure inside the open natural fracture and can cause initiation of a branch fracture from one or more of its extremities. The net result is creation of a main fracture together with a set of smaller and very narrow offset branch fractures.
An unbonded closed natural fracture has no tensile strength and can open when exposed to a tensile normal stress acting on its face. Intersection of these types of natural fractures by a hydraulic fracture can have one or more of three different consequences; crossing through, limited natural fracture opening in mixed mode (tensile plus shear) and extension, or creation of offset parallel branches. The conditions leading to each of these are identified and discussed.
Bonded closed natural fractures can activate if the magnitude of the tensile stress induced on its face by the advancing hydraulic fracture causes the normal stress on its face to exceed its bond strength. In this situation the activation of the natural fracture will be in mixed more (tensile plus shear). However, under most actual situations hydraulic fractures are more likely to cross through them.
The important parameters controlling activation of natural fractures are their inclination angle with respect to the hydraulic fracture and the three in-situ principal stresses, the magnitude of fluid pressure inside the fracture relative to the difference between the two horizontal principal stresses, and their size and location.