The exploitation of shale gas has attracted extensive attention in industry and academia. Multi-scale gas transportation mechanisms in matrix and fractures have been well studied. However, due to the presence of water originating from both fracking fluids and connate water, shale gas production is also greatly affected by water imbibition and flowback, of which the processes have not been thoroughly analyzed. This paper aims at presenting a comprehensive multi-continuum multi-component model to characterize the complicated shale gas flow behaviors as well as the impact of non-Darcy water flow on shale gas production.

A two-phase numerical simulator is built up with multi-continuum settings. Shale matrix is split into organic and inorganic matters while natural and hydraulic fractures are modeled using an embedded discrete fracture model (EDFM). Fracture closure and elongation are modeled using a dynamic gridding approach. Different transportation mechanisms are considered to describe gas flow in shale, including Knudsen diffusion, ab/desorption, and convection. The low-velocity non-Darcy flow of water is used in inorganic pores to analyze the effect of water flow.

A pre-stage model based on pumping history is simulated firstly before production starts. This serves as an initialization step to model fracking fluid imbibition and early-stage water flowback. This pre-stage simulation gives out more precise pressure and saturation profiles than the conventional non-equilibrium initialization method, especially in enhanced pore volumes and fractures. Based upon simulation results from the production period, Langmuir isotherm absorption has shown a massive impact on gas flow in shale, and Knudsen diffusion weights highest among transport mechanisms. Water non-Darcy flow better benefits in simulating both early-stage water flowback and production process compared with Darcy flow, which gives us a new explanation on the low flowback efficiency in real shale gas operations. Studies on early-stage water flowback also show that the flowback affects saturation distribution, which has a strong relationship with gas production and shall not be ignored.

This work establishes a novel method to simulate and analyze shale gas production. It considers multiple and complex flow mechanisms and gives out better estimates of water flux. It is also used to initialize a model for pumping water imbibition and early-stage flowback, which can be used as technical resources for analyzing and simulating unconventional plays.

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