The key in unlocking unconventional reserves is to create massive fracture surface area. During the fracturing treatment, a huge volume of fracturing fluid is pumped to generate fractures and then followed with a large amount of proppant to provide enough conductivity for reservoir fluid to flow to the wellbore. The ultimate proppant distribution in the fracture system directly impacts well productivity and production decline rate. However, it is very challenging to predict how far proppants can go and where they will settle because of the complexity of the fracture system. Therefore, accurate modeling of proppant transport inside the fracture system is critical to enable stimulation optimization. Previous modeling and experimental studies were usually based on simple proppant settling velocity models and limited only to planar fracture cases. To accurately evaluate propped complex fracture systems, which are more common in unconventional reservoirs, advanced proppant transport models are required.

In this paper, proppant transport in various fracture geometries is investigated using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models, in which the interaction between proppant particles and the carrying fluid phase is fully coupled to track proppant movement in the fractures. The planar fracture case is first investigated using a CFD model and benchmarked with results from commercial software. The CFD models are then used to simulate the proppant transport in T-junction and crossing-junction scenarios, which are often seen in unconventional reservoir fracture systems. Parametrical studies are also conducted to better understand how proppant transport is affected by fracture fluid viscosity, proppant density, and fluid injection rates.

The results from the proposed CFD models indicate that proppant transport within complex fracture geometries is significantly affected by fracture fluid dynamics and proppant properties. At fracture junctions, turbulent flow regime will develop, which helps proppant propagate to natural fractures. According to the parametrical studies, higher injection rate and light-weight proppant are beneficial in transporting proppant through fracture junctions to reach further in both hydraulic fractures and natural fractures.

Proppant transport models developed in this work fully incorporate the interaction between proppant particles and carrying fluid dynamics. This study extends the current understanding of proppant movement in complex fracture geometries and helps optimize hydraulic fracturing design to improve unconventional well production performance.

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