The proper interpretation of microseismic event patterns to estimate hydraulic-fracture geometries is critical for understanding well performance in unconventional reservoirs. Besides factors such as microseismic event location uncertainty, advanced interpretations should also include a proper understanding of the geomechanical context in which these events take place and the underlying mechanisms that link the hydraulic fracture to the microseismic events. In this paper we investigate the different mechanisms that can cause microseismic activity around a hydraulic fracture from the viewpoint of a 3D elasto-static model to explain the behavior of microseismic event patterns. Stress perturbations caused by the opening of hydraulic fractures, opening of extensional branch fractures, and leakoff-related effects are considered. Multiple transverse fractures as well as dilated natural fractures orthogonal to the hydraulic-fracture direction are modeled under different sets of reservoir and treatment conditions to gain insight into the importance of different mechanisms.
An important observation is that stress changes alone caused by tensile opening behind the hydraulic-fracture tip cannot cause microseismic events under any set of reservoir conditions normally encountered in practice. The results indicate that tip effects, propagation of extensional branch fractures, and activation of natural fractures upon intersection should be the main drivers of microseismic activity in shale-gas plays. The modeling shows that microseismic events are expected to occur very close to the hydraulically activated fractures or planes, thus enhancing the value of microseismic monitoring. The modeling also showed that under certain conditions (critically stressed formations), the shear zone caused by tip effects can extend fairly far ahead of the fracture tip, which needs to be considered in the interpretation of fracture geometry. The presented results help to constrain and enhance the interpretation of microseismic data, from a geomechanical perspective.