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Microscopic modelling of the hydraulic fracturing process

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date02/2013
JournalEnvironmental Earth Sciences
Number of pages18
Early online date13/07/12
Original languageEnglish


A microscopic perspective is introduced in this study which offers a detailed insight at the inter-particle level to the geo-mechanical responses caused by fluid injection and the resulting pressure build-up. This was achieved by employing the Discrete Element Method (DEM) to model the pressure development and the subsequent fracturing and/or cavity propagation. This technique represents the formation material as an assembly of discrete particles linked to each other through contacts. Numerical experiments were carried out on two sample materials. For the first instance, tests were carried out on a bulk material, representative of a generic intact rock, with the breakage of inter-particle bonds indicating the formation of cracks. The second series of tests was carried out on granular type materials such as sand, where particle separation signified cavity initiation and separation. It was observed from the DEM modelling results that the intact rock material showed a predominance of mode II fracturing at high fluid velocities. However, when the fluid velocity is reduced considerably the fracturing behaviour tended towards more of mode I. Also, records of the pressure development were taken from the numerical results and were used to monitor the fracturing events. The outcome of this study highlights important aspects of the hydraulic fracturing process especially at the particle–particle scale, and thus provides a strong basis for more exhaustive studies involving larger scale reservoir modelling and more complex fracturing scenarios.