Seismo-mechanical response of anisotropic rocks under hydraulic fracture conditions : new experimental insights

Gehne, S. and Benson, P. M. and Koor, N. and Dobson, K. J. and Enfield, M. and Barber, A. (2019) Seismo-mechanical response of anisotropic rocks under hydraulic fracture conditions : new experimental insights. Journal of Geophysical Research: Solid Earth, 124 (9). pp. 9562-9579. ISSN 2169-9313 (

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Unconventional hydrocarbon resources found across the world are driving a renewed interest in mudrock hydraulic fracturing methods. However, given the difficulty in safely measuring the various controlling factors in a natural environment, considerable challenges remain in understanding the fracture process. To investigate, we report a new laboratory study that simulates hydraulic fracturing using a conventional triaxial apparatus. We show that fracture orientation is primarily controlled by external stress conditions and the inherent rock anisotropy and fabric are critical in governing fracture initiation, propagation, and geometry. We use anisotropic Nash Point Shale (NPS) from the early Jurassic with high elastic P wave anisotropy (56%) and mechanical tensile anisotropy (60%), and highly anisotropic (cemented) Crab Orchard Sandstone with P wave/tensile anisotropies of 12% and 14%, respectively. Initiation of tensile fracture requires 36 MPa for NPS at 1-km simulated depth and 32 MPa for Crab Orchard Sandstone, in both cases with cross-bedding favorable orientated. When unfavorably orientated, this increases to 58 MPa for NPS at 800-m simulated depth, far higher as fractures must now traverse cross-bedding. We record a swarm of acoustic emission activity, which exhibits spectral power peaks at 600 and 100 kHz suggesting primary fracture and fluid-rock resonance, respectively. The onset of the acoustic emission data precedes the dynamic instability of the fracture by 0.02 s, which scales to ~20 s for ~100-m size fractures. We conclude that a monitoring system could become not only a forecasting tool but also a means to control the fracking process to prevent avoidable seismic events.