Maximize Fracking Profitability with ANSYS

This article explains how ANSYS and few other tools can be used to perform hydraulic fracturing, or commonly known as fracking, to reduce costs and increase profitability of shale gas projects.

Shale Gas

Shale gas is a form of natural gas trapped within shale formations. Because of its abundance, shale gas is a lot cheaper than it has been in years. Hydraulic fracturing or fracking helps in extracting it efficiently.

According to American Enterprise Institute, “the direct benefit of increasing oil and gas production includes the value of increased production attributable to the technology. In 2011, the USA produced 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from shale gas wells. Taking an average price of $4.24 per thousand cubic feet, that’s a value of about $36 billion, due to shale gas alone.” As a result of increase in fracking, natural gas imports in United States reduced by 25 percent between 2007 and 2011.

What is Fracking?

The term simply means creating fractures using hydraulic fluids. In this technique, production teams pump huge volumes of water and proppant at high pressure into the gas well. They also mix a few chemicals, which improve fracking performance, along with the water during pumping. Shale layers, being less permeable, minimize the flow of the natural shale gas trapped.

Fracking is useful in creating a connected fractured network between pores of the rock through which natural gas escapes out. In the first step, production teams drill horizontally along the shale layers. From the perforations, specialists pumps water into the rock. Since water is sent in with high pressures, the shale layers fractures. Once the pressure is decreased, they retrieve water from the shale layers leaving behind sand particles. However, the proppant dwells in the rock layers keeping the cracks open thereby allowing gas to escape.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Fracking

Fracking helps in accessing the natural shale gas trapped deep down beneath the earth. With traditional methods of extraction, we cannot exploit this energy potential. Recently-developed methods of vertical and horizontal drilling added favor to fracking. They permit drilling thousands of feet deep inside the ground in order to access the trapped shale gas.

It is said that shale gas causes lesser air pollution when compared to other dirty fuels like coal and oil. However there are ways in which fracking itself can cause more devastating effects such as air emissions and climate change, high water consumption, water contamination, land use, risk of earthquakes, noise pollution, and health effects on humans.

Economic Benefits of Simulation

To achieve an optimal design for a gas well, standard industry practice is to conduct a large number of field trials that require high capital investment and time which significantly increases the project value.

In order to obtain a profitable production of shale gas, I recommend you to use a fully coupled 3D hydraulic-mechanical simulation. Obviously the costs of such simulation are a lot lower than traditional methods. Many of our customers in the Oil & Gas industry have yielded better output with a higher project profitability.

You can find the schematic view of simulating Hydraulic Fracture below.Schematic view for fracking simulation

Essential Pre-Requisites for Simulation

We gather the input data for simulation from different physics such as geology, petrophysics and geomechanics. From the geology of the rock structure, we extract the lithology and layering, altitudes of beddings and natural fracture data. Accurate determination of petrophysical properties for both the reservoir and fluid contents is necessary. We also need to consider features like porosity, permeability and saturation for the reservoir. It also includes evaluating the properties that help in determining the hydrocarbon concentrations in the reservoir and its ability to produce the gas.

Along with the surface and sub-surface properties of the rock, the in-situ stress parameters also have same importance in simulation. I also account for elastic properties and strength parameters of intact rocks. The geomechanical studies of the rock structure also reveal the strength parameters of natural fractures, if any. Using multiPlas, I model these rock-specific material parameters and joints.

Of course, gathering this data can look daunting to you. However our expertise combined with strengths from Dynardo GmbH – the leading global experts in simulation of hydraulic fracturing – can help!

Fracking Simulation – Readying the Model

In the simulation of fracking process, I use a sequential coupled hydraulic-mechanical modeling approach. Therefore, I construct two models – a hydraulic flow model and a mechanical model simultaneously.

3D model with different soil layers for fracking simulation
3D model with different soil layers

To account the strength and stress anisotropies of the rock structure, I need to consider a 3D model. These variables help us to constantly monitor the behavior of fracking process. To capture the anisotropic nature of the rocks, you’ll need strength and stress anisotropies of the rock matrix and fracture system.

Sequentially Coupled Hydraulic-Mechanical Analysis in ANSYS

In ANSYS Mechanical, we start with a transient hydraulic flow analysis (analogous to transient thermal analysis) to understand the pore pressure field. The pressure increases in the fracture-initiated locations due to the pumping of fluid and low permeability of rock. If the pressure is large enough, the rock starts to fail and fractures open up. As a result, the permeability of the rock structure increases and changes the pressure distribution in the hydraulic flow model. From a mechanical perspective, pressure increase changes the effective stresses within the rock. After every fluid time increment, change in the mechanical forces from pore pressure change will be introduced into the mechanical analysis. The forces on every discretization point of the smeared continuum are computed from the pore pressure gradient.

I setup the coupling inside ANSYS in an explicit manner. Consequently, one iteration cycle is performed for every time step. The time step needs to adequately represent the progress of the fracture growth. At each time step, a transient hydraulic flow analysis starts first. Then the mechanical analysis with the updated pressure field from the hydraulic flow model is conducted. The mechanical analysis results in updated stress, plastic strain fields and hydraulic conductivities. i apply the updated hydraulic conductivities to the hydraulic model in the subsequent time step.

Crack expansion in the model while performing fracking analysis
Crack expansion in the model

In mechanical analysis, the development of fractures is represented by a plastic model in ANSYS. As a result, I cannot directly measure fracture openings and hence I’ll need to calculate it based on the plastic strains.

Model Calibration & Optimization of Fracking Paramaters

Because of large number of statistically-varying and reservoir parameters, the reservoir model needs advanced calibration procedure. At first, I will need to calibrate numerical parameters such as maximum permeability of open joints or energy dissipation at pore pressure frontier.

After calibration of all the parameters, I identify the most important parameters contributing to maximum crack volume using optiSLang software. As you will recognize, maximum crack volume correlates to maximum shale gas output. I validate the behavior of such important parameters and then calibrate the analysis model to the field measurements. I use the calibrated model later in order to optimize the simulated volume and predict the gas production rate of the wells.

Summary & Outlook

Evidently, application of simulation to the fracking process will underline its predictability. Simulation cut downs the costs of field trials, brings down the time-to-market thereby significantly increases the project profitability.

If you’re into gas exploration, you should contact us filling this form or by writing to We’ll be glad to explain some of our recent projects that have benefited customers in Oil & Gas industry.

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