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Effect of thermal and mechanical processes on hydraulic transmissivity evolution

February 8, 2023

Fracture healing is a critical component of enhanced geothermal systems, the earthquake cycle, and induced seismicity. Accordingly, there is significant interest in understanding the process of healing and its effects on fluid transport. The creation, reactivation, and sustainability of fracture networks depend on complex coupling among thermal, hydraulic, mechanical, and chemical processes. We use laboratory slide-hold-slide experiments, at temperatures from 22 to 200 ˚C, to examine effects of fracture reactivation and quasi-static loading on the evolution of fluid transport properties of simulated fractures in Westerly granite. At all temperatures, the in-plane hydraulic transmissivity consistently decays during hold periods resulting in an overall reduction in transmissivity. During the first three to fifteen hours of an experiment, transmissivity decreases rapidly due to the generation of wear products, development of a sliding surface, and compaction of the resulting gouge. Once the sliding surface has developed, the long-term transmissivity decay rate at 22 and 100 ˚C is significantly lower than the transmissivity decay rate during the initial 3 to 15 hours of the experiment. However, at 200 °C, the decay of hydraulic transmissivity remains high throughout the experiment. The long-term decay of hydraulic transmissivity can be fitted with a power law model with more rapid reduction of hydraulic transmissivity at higher temperature. Periods of sliding on the fracture surface result in transient increases in the transmissivity, due to shear dilation, as is expected for Coulomb materials. These transients are superimposed on the long-term decay. When sliding ceases and a new hold period commences, there is a rapid reduction in transmissivity and return to the long-term rate of transmissivity decay. The rate of decay of the transmissivity transients is inversely proportional to temperature, in contrast to the long-term decay and the expected behavior for processes like subcritical crack growth and indentation creep. The higher decay rates that are observed during the initial 3-15 hours of the tests and following sliding, are associated with times that the porosity of the gouge is expected to be high. The difference in decay rates suggests that when the gouge is driven far from equilibrium by active shearing, densification may be dominated by a different mechanism from long-term compaction.

Publication Year 2023
Title Effect of thermal and mechanical processes on hydraulic transmissivity evolution
Authors Tamara Nicole Jeppson, David A. Lockner, Joshua M. Taron, Diane E. Moore, Brian D. Kilgore, Nicholas M. Beeler, Stephen H. Hickman
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70240691
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Earthquake Science Center; Geology, Minerals, Energy, and Geophysics Science Center