Liquid Nitrogen Fracturing in Boreholes under True Triaxial Stresses: Laboratory Investigation on Fractures Initiation and Morphology

Yang, Ruiyue (China University of Petroleum) | Hong, Chunyang (China University of Petroleum) | Huang, Zhongwei (China University of Petroleum) | Wen, Haitao (China University of Petroleum) | Li, Xiaojiang (Sinopec Research Institute of Petroleum Engineering) | Huang, Pengpeng (China University of Petroleum) | Liu, Wei (China University of Petroleum) | Chen, Jianxiang (China University of Petroleum)


Summary Multistage hydraulic fracturing is widely used in developing tight reservoirs. However, the economic and environmental burden of freshwater souring, transportation, treatment, and disposal in hydraulic fracturing operations has been a topic of great importance to the energy industry and public alike. Waterless fracturing is one possible method of solving these water‐related issues. Liquid nitrogen (LN2) is considered a promising alternate fracturing fluid that can create fractures by coupled hydraulic/thermal loadings and, more importantly, pose no threats to the environment. However, there are few laboratory experiments that use LN2 directly as a fracturing fluid. In this work, we examine the performance of LN2 fracturing based on a newly developed cryogenic‐fracturing system under true‐triaxial loadings. The breakdown pressure and fracture morphologies are compared with water fracturing. Moreover, fracture‐initiation behavior under cryogenic in‐situ conditions revealed by cryo‐scanning electron microscopy (cryo‐SEM) is presented, and the role of thermal stress is quantified by a coupled thermoporoelastic‐damage numerical simulation. Finally, the potential application considerations of LN2 fracturing in the field site are discussed. The results demonstrate that LN2 fracturing can lower fracture initiation and propagation pressure and generate higher conductive fractures with numerous thermally induced cracks in the vicinity of the wellbore. Thermal gradient could generate enormously high‐tensile hoop stress and bring about extensive rock damage. Fracture‐propagation direction is inclined to be influenced by the thermal stress. Furthermore, phase transition during the fracturing process and low fluid viscosity of LN2 can also facilitate the fracture propagation and network generation. The key findings obtained in this work are expected to provide a viable alternative for the sustainable development of tight‐reservoir resources in an efficient and environmentally acceptable way.

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Liquid Nitrogen Fracturing in Boreholes under True Triaxial Stresses: Laboratory Investigation on Fractures Initiation and Morphology1.000OnePetro