Proppant embedment in coal and shale: Impacts of stress hardening and sorption

Sheng Zhi, Derek Elsworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


During methane production in CBM reservoirs, the influence of proppant embedment and permeability damage cannot be neglected – especially where the wall-rock is soft. Effective stresses are elevated during methane recovery, increasing both normal loading stress and confinement and simultaneously overprinting sorption-induced volumetric strains. Experiments and analytic modeling are conducted to define key mechanisms controlling these competitive effects. We independently measure overall sample compaction (external LVDT) and local strain (strain gauge) in the matrix to deconvolve proppant embedment in a propped fracture for different conditions of confining stress. The results show symptomatic behaviors of elastic (shale) and elastoplastic (coal) responses of embedment. Different from shale, the evolution of embedment is convex upwards with increased stress where indented depth increases more rapidly as loading stress increases under constant confinement. In addition, a stress-hardening effect is found to play a pivotal role in determining the characteristics of indentation, which are examined in terms of evolution profiles, deformation regimes, embedment slopes, curvatures, yield points and irreversible indentations. Based on the experimental observations a semianalytical model predicts indentation and the evolution of propped permeability under recreated in-situ stress conditions. A simplified case study is conducted to further illustrate the evolution of aperture and permeability of a propped fracture in CBM reservoirs. The modeling results suggest that proppant embedment is significantly overestimated if the variable stress-hardening (VSH) effect is neglected, especially when effective stress is large. Moreover, a decrease in indentation depth possibly occurs during late stage methane production, resulting in a reversal/recovery in fracture closure. This is because desorption-induced shrinkage becomes the predominant effect, causing an increase in aperture and a reduction in the indented volume of proppant. The resulting recovery in permeability implies that the propped coal fracture has the potential to optimally facilitate methane production as a pathway, even at high closure stresses generated by methane drainage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number103545
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


Dive into the research topics of 'Proppant embedment in coal and shale: Impacts of stress hardening and sorption'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this