Mechanics of Light Weight Proppants: A Discrete Approach
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Proppants are a specific application of granular materials used in oil/gas well stimulation. Employment of hard and soft particle mixtures is one of the many approaches availed by the industry to improve fracture resistance and the stability of the granular pack in the hydraulic fracture. Current industrial practices of proppant characterization involve long term and expensive conductivity tests. However, the mechanics governing the proppant pack response, in particular the effects due to material, shape and size of particles on the pack porosity, stiffness and particle fragmentation are not understood clearly. The present research embodies analytical and experimental approach to model hard (ceramic) and soft (walnut shell and/or pure aluminum) proppant mixtures by taking into account polydispersity in size, shape and material type of individual particles. The hydraulic fracture condition is represented through confined compression and flowback loads. The particle interactions clearly illustrate changes in pore space as a function of pressure, mixture composition and friction. Single particle compression tests on individual particles are carried out to obtain mechanical properties which are incorporated into the finite element models and are further correlated with the compression/crush response of the mixture. The proppant pack stiffness and particle fragmentation depends strongly on the mixture composition as illustrated in the models and experiments. The flowback models demonstrated that the formation of a stable arch is essential to pack stability. Additional variables that enhance flowback resistance are identified as: addition of softer particles to a pack, softer rock surfaces and higher inter-particle friction. The computational studies also led to the discovery of better, and more efficient pack compositions such as - short and thin pure Al needles/ceramic and the pistachio shells/ceramic mixtures. These analytical results have generated great interest and are engaged in the design of experiments to formulate future proppant pack mixtures at Baker Hughes Pressure Pumping, Tomball, TX.
Kulkarni, Mandar (2012). Mechanics of Light Weight Proppants: A Discrete Approach. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from