Abstract

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is a procedure used extensively by oil and gas companies to extract natural gas or petroleum from unconventional sources. During this process, a pressurized liquid is injected into wellbores to generate fractures in rock formations to create more permeable pathways in low permeability rocks that hold the oil. To keep the rock fractures open after removing the high pressure, proppant, which typically are sands with different shapes and sizes, are injected simultaneously with the fracking fluid to spread them throughout rock fractures. The extraction productivity from shale reservoirs is significantly affected by the performance and quality of the proppant injection process. Since these processes occur under the ground and in the rock fractures, using experimental investigations to examine the process is challenging, if not impossible. Therefore, employing numerical tools for analyzing the process could provide significant insights leading to the fracking process improvement. Accordingly, in this investigation, a 4-way coupled Computational Fluid Dynamic and Discrete Element Method (CFD-DEM) code was used to simulate proppant transport into a numerically generated realistic rock fracture geometry. The simulations were carried out for a sufficiently long period to reach the fractures’ steady coverage by proppant. The proppant fracture coverage is a distinguishing factor that can be used to assess the proppant injection process quality. A series of simulations with different proppant sizes as well as various fracking fluid flow rates, were performed. The corresponding estimated fracture coverages for different cases were compared. The importance of proppant size as well as the fluid flow rate on the efficiency of the proppant injection process, were evaluated and discussed.

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