A continuum model for coupled stress and fluid flow in discrete fracture networks

Quan Gan, Derek Elsworth

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82 Scopus citations


We present a model coupling stress and fluid flow in a discontinuous fractured mass represented as a continuum by coupling the continuum simulator TF_FLAC3D with cell-by-cell discontinuum laws for deformation and flow. Both equivalent medium crack stiffness and permeability tensor approaches are employed to characterize pre-existing discrete fractures. The advantage of this approach is that it allows the creation of fracture networks within the reservoir without any dependence on fracture geometry or gridding. The model is validated against thermal depletion around a single stressed fracture embedded within an infinite porous medium that cuts multiple grid blocks. Comparison of the evolution of aperture against the results from other simulators confirms the veracity of the incorporated constitutive model, accommodating stress-dependent aperture under different stress states, including normal closure, shear dilation, and for fracture walls out of contact under tensile loading. An induced thermal unloading effect is apparent under cold injection that yields a larger aperture and permeability than during conditions of isothermal injection. The model is applied to a discrete fracture network to follow the evolution of fracture permeability due to the influence of stress state (mean and deviatoric) and fracture orientation. Normal closure of the fracture system is the dominant mechanism where the mean stress is augmented at constant stress obliquity ratio of 0.65—resulting in a reduction in permeability. Conversely, for varied stress obliquity (0.65–2) shear deformation is the principal mechanism resulting in an increase in permeability. Fractures aligned sub-parallel to the major principal stress are near-critically stressed and have the greatest propensity to slip, dilate and increase permeability. Those normal to direction of the principal stress are compacted and reduce the permeability. These mechanisms increase the anisotropy of permeability in the rock mass. Furthermore, as the network becomes progressively more sparse, the loss of connectivity results in a reduction in permeability with zones of elevated pressure locked close to the injector—with the potential for elevated pressures and elevated levels of induced seismicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-61
Number of pages19
JournalGeomechanics and Geophysics for Geo-Energy and Geo-Resources
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Geophysics
  • General Energy
  • Economic Geology


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