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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Modeling of fault activation and seismicity by injection directly into a fault zone associated with hydraulic fracturing of shale-gas reservoirs


We conducted three-dimensional coupled fluid-flow and geomechanical modeling of fault activation and seismicity associated with hydraulic fracturing stimulation of a shale-gas reservoir. We simulated a case in which a horizontal injection well intersects a steeply dipping fault, with hydraulic fracturing channeled within the fault, during a 3-h hydraulic fracturing stage. Consistent with field observations, the simulation results show that shale-gas hydraulic fracturing along faults does not likely induce seismic events that could be felt on the ground surface, but rather results in numerous small microseismic events, as well as aseismic deformations along with the fracture propagation. The calculated seismic moment magnitudes ranged from about -2.0 to 0.5, except for one case assuming a very brittle fault with low residual shear strength, for which the magnitude was 2.3, an event that would likely go unnoticed or might be barely felt by humans at its epicenter. The calculated moment magnitudes showed a dependency on injection depth and fault dip. We attribute such dependency to variation in shear stress on the fault plane and associated variation in stress drop upon reactivation. Our simulations showed that at the end of the 3-h injection, the rupture zone associated with tensile and shear failure extended to a maximum radius of about 200. m from the injection well. The results of this modeling study for steeply dipping faults at 1000 to 2500. m depth is in agreement with earlier studies and field observations showing that it is very unlikely that activation of a fault by shale-gas hydraulic fracturing at great depth (thousands of meters) could cause felt seismicity or create a new flow path (through fault rupture) that could reach shallow groundwater resources.

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