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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Surfactants are Ineffective for Reducing Imbibition of Water-Based Fracturing Fluids in Deep Gas Reservoirs


Minimizing loss of injected hydraulic fracturing fluids into shale along fracture-matrix boundaries is desired because imbibed water restricts gas production and wastes valuable water resources. This problem has motivated the addition of surfactants into water-based hydraulic fracturing fluids in order to reduce the capillary driving force for imbibition. Here, we show that reduction in interfacial tension and wettability alteration has negligible ability to reduce imbibition in deep gas reservoirs. The effectiveness of altering capillary forces acting at the wetting front also depends on the injection pressure acting at the fracture-matrix boundary. The pressure at the interface between the fracture and the shale matrix is constrained between the reservoir pore pressure and formation pressure (rock fracture pressure, also known as breakdown pressure of the rock) and increases with depth to magnitudes that greatly exceed that of capillary pressures. The analyses presented here show that even maximum alteration of interfacial properties that result in strongly hydrophobic interactions between the fracturing fluid and reservoir rock is incapable of significantly reducing imbibition in deep reservoirs. Instead of using surfactants, this analysis points to decreases in wellbore shut-in pressures and shut-in times as practical options for reducing imbibition losses of water-based fluids.

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