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Mechanical and hydraulic properties of rocks related to induced seismicity

January 1, 1977

Witherspoon, P.A. and Gale, J.E., 1977. Mechanical and hydraulic properties of rocks related to induced seismicity. Eng. Geol., 11(1): 23-55. The mechanical and hydraulic properties of fractured rocks are considered with regard to the role they play in induced seismicity. In many cases, the mechanical properties of fractures determine the stability of a rock mass. The problems of sampling and testing these rock discontinuities and interpreting their non-linear behavior are reviewed. Stick slip has been proposed as the failure mechanism in earthquake events. Because of the complex interactions that are inherent in the mechanical behavior of fractured rocks, there seems to be no simple way to combine the deformation characteristics of several sets of fractures when there are significant perturbations of existing conditions. Thus, the more important fractures must be treated as individual components in the rock mass. In considering the hydraulic properties, it has been customary to treat a fracture as a parallel-plate conduit and a number of mathematical models of fracture systems have adopted this approach. Non-steady flow in fractured systems has usually been based on a two-porosity model, which assumes the primary (intergranular) porosity contributes only to storage and the secondary (fracture) porosity contributes only to the overall conductivity. Using such a model, it has been found that the time required to achieve quasi-steady state flow in a fractured reservoir is one or two orders of magnitude greater than it is in a homogeneous system. In essentially all of this work, the assumption has generally been made that the fractures are rigid. However, it is clear from a review of the mechanical and hydraulic properties that not only are fractures easily deformed but they constitute the main flow paths in many rock masses. This means that one must consider the interaction of mechanical and hydraulic effects. A considerable amount of laboratory and field data is now available that clearly demonstrates this stress-flow behavior. Two approaches have been used in attempting to numerically model such behavior: (1) continuum models, and (2) discrete models. The continuum approach only needs information as to average values of fracture spacing and material properties. But because of the inherent complexity of fractured rock masses and the corresponding decrease in symmetry, it is difficult to develop an equivalent continuum that will simulate the behavior of the entire system. The discrete approach, on the other hand, requires details of the fracture geometry and material properties of both fractures and rock matrix. The difficulty in obtaining such information has been considered a serious limitation of discrete models, but improved borehole techniques can enable one to obtain the necessary data, at least in shallow systems. The possibility of extending these methods to deeper fracture systems needs more investigation. Such data must be considered when deciding whether to use a continuum or discrete model to represent the interaction of rock and fluid forces in a fractured rock system, especially with regard to the problem of induced seismicity. When one is attempting to alter the pressure distribution in a fault zone by injection or withdrawal of fluids, the extent to which this can be achieved will be controlled in large measure by the behavior of the fractures that communicate with the borehole. Since this is essentially a point phenomenon, i.e., the changes will propagate from a relatively small region around the borehole, the use of a discrete model would appear to be preferable. 

Publication Year 1977
Title Mechanical and hydraulic properties of rocks related to induced seismicity
DOI 10.1016/0013-7952(77)90018-7
Authors P. A. Witherspoon, J.E. Gale
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Engineering Geology
Index ID 70009822
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse