In a bid to improve the results of hydraulic fracturing in the recovery of oil in shale reservoirs, an engineer from Texas A&M University has developed a 3D-printed model to simulate the process.

To improve hydraulic fracturing performance, Texas A&M graduate researcher Gabriel Tatman developed a 3D-printed model to recreate the fractures that form during the fracturing process. Focusing specifically on the unseen occurrences that take place underneath the surface once fluid is forced into the rock formation at high pressures to fracture or crack the shale, Tatman concentrated on the concealed behaviors of proppants and diverters.

Source: Texas A&M UniversitySource: Texas A&M University

The behaviors of proppants — the grains of sand used to hold open fractures after high pressure is released so oil and gas flow to the well — and diverters — the chemical materials injected to create new pathways, thereby creating new channels and thus complex fracture geometries — in the role of fracking go largely unseen. However, using actual rock fracture data to create a clear 3D-printed model enabled researchers to repeat fracture flow experiments in greater detail.

The model, according to Tatman, could eventually be used to make determinations about ideal proppant placement, concentrations and types for optimal results, thereby improving hydraulic fracturing.

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