Fracture Propagation Driven by Fluid Outflow from a Low-Permeability Aquifer


Deep saline aquifers are promising geological reservoirs for \(\mathrm {CO}_2\) sequestration if they do not leak. The absence of leakage is provided by the caprock integrity. However, \(\mathrm {CO}_2\) injection operations may change the geomechanical stresses and cause fracturing of the caprock. We present a model for the propagation of a fracture in the caprock driven by the outflow of fluid from a low-permeability aquifer. We show that to describe the fracture propagation, it is necessary to solve the pressure diffusion problem in the aquifer. We solve the problem numerically for the two-dimensional domain and show that, after a relatively short time, the solution is close to that of one-dimensional problem, which can be solved analytically. We use the relations derived in the hydraulic fracture literature to relate the width of the fracture to its length and the flux into it, which allows us to obtain an analytical expression for the fracture length as a function of time. Using these results we predict the propagation of a hypothetical fracture at the In Salah \(\mathrm {CO}_2\) injection site to be as fast as a typical hydraulic fracture. We also show that the hydrostatic and geostatic effects cause the increase of the driving force for the fracture propagation and, therefore, our solution serves as an estimate from below. Numerical estimates show that if a fracture appears, it is likely that it will become a pathway for \(\mathrm {CO}_2\) leakage.

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Funding for this research has been provided by the Carbon Mitigation Initiative ( sponsored by BP. We thank George Scherer for fruitful discussions and Allyson Sgro for useful comments on the manuscript. We also thank the anonymous reviewers for the constructive comments that led to significant improvements in the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Gennady Yu. Gor.

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Gor, G.Y., Stone, H.A. & Prévost, J.H. Fracture Propagation Driven by Fluid Outflow from a Low-Permeability Aquifer. Transp Porous Med 100, 69–82 (2013).

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  • \(\mathrm {CO}_2\) sequestration
  • Fracture propagation
  • Porous media