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Numerical simulation of the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing of tight/shale gas reservoirs on near-surface groundwater: Background, base cases, shallow reservoirs, short-term gas, and water transport

  • Author(s): Reagan, MT
  • Moridis, GJ
  • Keen, ND
  • Johnson, JN
  • et al.
Abstract

© 2015. The Authors. Hydrocarbon production from unconventional resources and the use of reservoir stimulation techniques, such as hydraulic fracturing, has grown explosively over the last decade. However, concerns have arisen that reservoir stimulation creates significant environmental threats through the creation of permeable pathways connecting the stimulated reservoir with shallower freshwater aquifers, thus resulting in the contamination of potable groundwater by escaping hydrocarbons or other reservoir fluids. This study investigates, by numerical simulation, gas and water transport between a shallow tight-gas reservoir and a shallower overlying freshwater aquifer following hydraulic fracturing operations, if such a connecting pathway has been created. We focus on two general failure scenarios: (1) communication between the reservoir and aquifer via a connecting fracture or fault and (2) communication via a deteriorated, preexisting nearby well. We conclude that the key factors driving short-term transport of gas include high permeability for the connecting pathway and the overall volume of the connecting feature. Production from the reservoir is likely to mitigate release through reduction of available free gas and lowering of reservoir pressure, and not producing may increase the potential for release. We also find that hydrostatic tight-gas reservoirs are unlikely to act as a continuing source of migrating gas, as gas contained within the newly formed hydraulic fracture is the primary source for potential contamination. Such incidents of gas escape are likely to be limited in duration and scope for hydrostatic reservoirs. Reliable field and laboratory data must be acquired to constrain the factors and determine the likelihood of these outcomes.

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