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racture orientation

A hydraulic fracture will propagate in a plane perpendicular to the least princi


pal earth stress. For example, consider a well at 1000 ft in a tectonically rela
xed area with a terrastatic gradient of 1.0 psi/ft of depth. In such a shallow w
ell, the overburden stress can be overcome more easily than either of the two pr
incipal horizontal stresses. If an attempt is made to fracture such a well by pu
mping into it at high injection rates, the pressure adjacent to the exposed form
ation will increase rapidly. When that pressure becomes 1000 psi or slightly gre
ater, there is sufficient pressure to lift the overburden. At this point, a hori
zontal fracture occurs (that is, a fracture perpendicular to the vertical wellbo
re or parallel to the surface of the earth).
Alternatively, consider a well that is 5000 ft deep in a formation having an ave
rage terrastatic gradient of 1.0 psi/ft and is also in a tectonically relaxed ar
ea. When an attempt is made to fracture this well hydraulically, it is found tha
t a fracture can be propagated with a bottomhole pressure of 3500 psi. Since thi
s pressure is inadequate to lift the overburden weight of the earth, it is infer
red that the fracture is not horizontal but rather vertical (that is, in the pla
ne of the vertical axis of the wellbore). Consequently, a good rule of thumb is
that in wells deeper than about 2000 ft, in tectonically relaxed areas, most hyd
raulic fractures will be vertical.
The azimuth direction of the hydraulic fracture depends upon the relative magnit
ude of the two principal horizontal stresses. Contrary to certain folk lore, the
re is no effective method for redirecting the direction of a vertical fracture i
n a deep well (2000 ft or deeper). It depends entirely upon the relative magnitu
de of the two principal horizontal stresses in the neighborhood of the wellbore.
The hydraulic fracture will propagate perpendicular to the least principal stre
ss. Fracture orientations tend to remain roughly the same over large geographica
l areas. East of the Rocky Mountain area, vertical fractures tend toward a north
easterly direction. This orientation is altered somewhat in the Gulf Coast area
where fractures seem to parallel the coast line. In the Rocky Mountain area, fra
ctures occur in unpredictable directions that are highly dependent upon the dire
ction of local tectonic forces.
Fracturing fluids and proppant placement
The effectiveness of a fracturing treatment is largely dependent upon how succes
sfully the proppant has been placed within the productive zone and how much cond
uctivity the propped fracture has relative to that of the formation being stimul
ated.