Mechanics of Hydraulic Fracturing1
A theoretical examination of the fracturing of rocks by means of pressure applied in boreholes leads to the conclusion that, regardless of whether the fracturing fluid is of the penetrating or nonpenetrating type, the fractures produced should be approximately perpendicular to the axis of least stress. The general state of stress underground is that in which the three principal stresses are unequal. For tectonically relaxed areas characterized by normal faulting, the least stress should be horizontal; the fractures produced should be vertical, and the injection pressure should be less than that of the overburden. In areas of active tectonic compression, the least stress should be vertical and equal to the pressure of the overburden; the fractures should be horizontal, and injection pressures should be equal to, or greater than, the pressure of the overburden.
Horizontal fractures cannot be produced by hydraulic pressures less than the total pressure of the overburden.
These conclusions are compatible with field experience in fracturing and with the results of laboratory ex-perimentation.
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This publication consists of papers based on oral presentations at a symposium of the same name co-sponsored by the United States Geological Survey and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. A wide range of technical issues are covered, as well as regulatory and liability concerns. Documentation of two areas in Colorado where earthquakes had resulted from subsurface fluid injection set the stage for modern debates regarding possible similar results elsewhere. A wide range of fluid compositions are subject to subsurface waste disposal. The largest volumes are brines separated during the production of oil and gas wells, but acid-water and industrial wastes of all types can be disposed in significant quantities in local areas. Large hydraulic fracture treatments never recover all of the injected fluids, and the chemical additives in the fluid that remains underground can be a concern. The subsurface injection of radioactive waste is a topic for three of the papers. The possible need for sequestration of carbon dioxide was not a significant concern at the time and was not covered, but many of the papers provide insight into the issues related to modern proposals. When fluids are injected under pressure into subsurface aquifers, they interact in numerous ways. The fluids can potentially migrate for long distances and potentially interfere with other uses for the native aquifer fluids. If the aquifer cannot transport all of the fluids away, the buildup in pressure can cause fracturing of the rock. Differences in composition between the injected and native fluids can cause chemical reactions to occur; in some cases these can be desirable in that they can immobilize certain solutes in mineral form. The long-term environmental consequences are a common theme in many of the papers because of the recognition that the disposed fluids would become a permanent fixture in subsurface aquifers and could have long-term consequences for their future utilization.