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SEISMICITY INDUCED BY FLUID INJECTION

Injection of fluid in rocks causes an increase of the pore pressure and also modifies the state of the stress (Hsieh, 1996; NRC, 1990). The stress change is associated with a volume expansion of the rock due to the increase of the pore pressure, similar to the familiar thermal expansion experienced by materials (Box 2.3). However, the pore pressure perturbation

BOX 2.3
Stress Induced by Fluid Injection or Withdrawal

Injection or extraction of fluid into or from a permeable rock induces not only a pore pressure change in the reservoir but also a perturbation in the stress field in the reservoir and in the surrounding rock. The physical mechanism responsible for this hydraulically induced stress perturbation can be illustrated by considering the injection of a finite volume of fluid inside a porous elastic sphere surrounded by a large impermeable elastic body (see Figure). The magnitude of the induced pore pressure (Δρ), once equilibrated, is proportional to the volume of fluid injected.

Assuming that the sphere is removed from the surrounding body, the pore pressure increase (Δρ) induces a free expansion of the sphere (ΔV*), similar in principle to the familiar thermal expansion experienced by a solid subject in response to a temperature increase. To force the expanded sphere back to its earlier size requires the application of an external confining stress (Δσ*), which is then relaxed. The final state corresponds to a constrained expansion of the sphere (ΔV), which is less than the free expansion; this state can be associated with a stress perturbation (Δσ) that is isotropic and uniform inside the sphere, but nonisotropic and nonuniform outside the sphere. The magnitude of the stress perturbation decays away from the sphere, becoming negligible at a distance about twice the sphere radius. The stress induced inside the sphere is compressive when the pore pressure increases (fluid injection) but tensile if the pore pressure decreases from its ambient value (fluid withdrawal).

This example illustrates the fundamental mechanism by which the stress field in the rock is modified by injection or withdrawal of fluid. The complexities associated with geological settings—in particular, the actual shape of the reservoir, its size, as well as the nonuniformity of the pore pressure field—affect the nature of the stress perturbation. The horizontal and vertical stress variations within most geological reservoirs are rarely identical; inside a tabular reservoir of large lateral extent compared to its thickness, only the horizontal stress is affected by the pore pressure change.

In the case of fluid injection in a fractured impermeable basement rock, such as that which may be a target for development of enhanced geothermal systems (EGS; see also Chapter 3), the perturbation is only of a hydraulic nature and the stress change can generally be ignored.

An analysis of the pore pressure and stress perturbation indicates that, in general, fluid injection increases the risk of slip along a fault located in the region where the pore pressure has increased. In the case of fluid withdrawal, the region at risk is generally outside the reservoir (see also Nicholson and Wesson, 1990).



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