Predicting hydraulic fracture propagation more accurately | 5/30/2019 | Staff
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Researchers at EPFL have developed a new model to calculate hydraulic fracture propagation. Acclaimed for its accuracy by experts, the model better predicts fracture geometry and the energy cost of hydraulic fracturing—a widely used technique in areas such as CO2 storage, hydrocarbon extraction, dams and volcano hazard monitoring.

Hydraulic fracturing has a wide range of applications, such as improving the productivity of wells used for fluid extraction and injection in porous rock formations. It is a routine part of hydrocarbon extraction but also of deep geothermal power operations, underground CO2 storage and gravity-assisted mining. Engineers use the technique to re-level buildings via compensation grouting, prevent cracks from spreading around dams, and even improve safety in deep underground tunnels. These fractures also occur in nature, such as when magma rises in the earth crust near volcanoes or at glacier beds due to the sudden release of surface meltwater lake.

Process - Injection - Fluid - High-pressure - Cracks

The industrial process involves the injection of fluid under high-pressure to create cracks in underground rock formations. "There's a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the effect of turbulent flow when a low-viscosity liquid is used as a fracturing fluid," says Brice Lecampion, who heads EPFL's Geo-energy Laboratory (GEL). "We wanted to develop an accurate open-source model that ends this uncertainty once and for all." Lecampion's paper, which he co-authored with researcher Haseeb Zia, was published in Journal of Fluid Mechanics in October 2019. In January 2020, this leading journal in the field of fluid mechanics has chosen it for a Focus on Fluids publishing an extended comment of the paper from an expert, in a testament to the relevance of the model developed at EPFL.

In order to inject or produce fluid deep underground, engineers drill a well of about ten centimeters in diameter and often extending two to three kilometers below the surface. Next,...
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