Unconventional gas reservoirs (shale gas, tight gas and coal bed methane) constitute a large percentage of natural gas supply. Hydraulic fracturing is commonly used to break-up rock matrix and connect natural fractures and cleats to create gas flow pathways. Application of hydraulic fracturing, however, poses several problems including extremely low matrix permeability and poor connectivity between matrix and fractures. Several studies have been made in field and in laboratory to open and interconnect these natural fractures and cleat system with cold fluid, results of which are found to be promising. In this paper we present a parametric design analysis as to the application of thermal stress (due to cold fluid injection) induced hydraulic fracture treatment.

Propagation of natural fractures and cleats surrounding the induced hydraulic fracture by thermal induced stress is investigated in hydro-thermo-mechanical (THM) framework both numerically and experimentally to quantify the effect of thermal shock. Increase in fracture (natural fractures and cleats) aperture and propagation is modelled by cohesive zone method. Numerical results were validated by injecting cold liquid in 1 in diameter coal sample and changes in permeability were recorded. During the same time, the changes in aperture and length of cleat and fractures respectively were monitored by μ-CT.

Numerical results show that as the cooling front due to invasion of cold fluid moves into the matrix, it facilitates initiation of cracks in planes of weakness and/ or causes the cleats and natural fractures to open and propagate some distance away from the hydraulic fracture surface. This phenomenon is more pronounced around crack tips due to severe thermal straining. It was also observed that SIF and J-integral of cracks are much higher than that without thermal effect.

Thermal stress induced cleats and natural fracture propagation surrounding the treatment area extends the reach of the hydraulic fracture which otherwise could not have been connected. In this paper we present a quantitative analysis of the effect of thermal stress on fracture/ cleat propagation behaviour so that an improved understanding is gained with regard to the application of low temperature fracturing.

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