Several recent studies have reported that proppant "bridging" (blocking) occurs at the interface between primary and secondary fractures. Such bridging blocks flow and significantly reduces the efficiency of proppant placement. The prevention of bridging is of great importance, but the criteria for bridging formation have yet to be determined. In this numerical study of proppant transport, we propose bridging formation criteria and analyze the associated distribution correlations that quantify the amount of proppant that migrates into the secondary fractures.

To model the complex interactions between proppant particles, fracturing fluids, and fracture walls, we use the discrete element method (DEM) coupled with computational fluid dynamics (CFD). We calibrate our model using widely accepted bed-load transport measurements. The simulation domain involves a "T-type" intersection of primary and secondary fractures. We investigate the effects of various proppant sizes and concentrations on bridging formation. In all cases, we investigate the occurrence of bridging and we quantify its impact by estimating the corresponding percentage of proppant reaching the secondary fractures.

Our simulation results show that the efficiency of proppant placement in the secondary fractures depends on the flow regime. In the suspension regime, proppant particles can be easily mobilized by the fluid drag force. This leads to a relative high proppant placement efficiency in the secondary fractures. When proppants are in the bed-load transport regime, kinetic energy transferred from the fluid drag force is dissipated by inter-particle collisions and the friction force. In this case, the amount of proppants entering the secondary fractures and the distance that proppants can cover are restricted compared to the case of proppants associated with suspension transport.

Our investigation reveals that two parameters are critical for the occurrence of proppant bridging (blocking) at the secondary fracture interface. These parameters are — the proppant concentration Cp and the ratio between the secondary fracture aperture and the proppant diameter (Rfp). At a fixed value of Rfp, continuous transport of proppant can be achieved when Cp is lower than a threshold value. Based on this finding, we use Rfp and Cp to propose a blocking criterion correlation.

You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.