In the world of hydraulic fracturing, where subterranean fractures are forced open to extract oil or gas, much is done before the drill meets the earth. Research to pinpoint the ideal extraction spot would be impossible if it had to be conducted 1-2 miles down in the Earth’s core. So engineers like Egor Dontsov, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, create computer models to simulate the areas of rock to approach with special attention when determining where the tip of the fracture will be.
“The tip is where everything happens,” said Dontsov. “It plays a fundamental role in how the fracture will grow and therefore needs to be thoroughly analyzed.”
So agreed the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research fund which awarded Dontsov $110,000 to support his research in this step to advance simulation of the fracking process.
But rocks are rocky
Given that the rocks have a layered structure due to geological deposition, they obey anisotropic elastic behavior, which means they may stretch one way in one direction and another way if pulled in a different direction. Dontsov’s work will incorporate such anisotropic behavior at the tip of the hydraulically-driven fracture.
“These are very expensive operations and so we want to make sure we can predict the fracture geometry as accurately as possible,” said Dontsov. “If we know the material is anisotropic, we need to account for it in our model.” He will add it into his research in the form of a math problem, formulating the governing equations for fractures in anisotropic rocks and then attempting to solve it numerically on a computer.
If successful, the project could lead to more efficient and effective extraction of hydrocarbons, no small feat for a process that has become significant to the energy industry and economy.
“Hydraulic fracturing changed the economic landscape,” said Dontsov. “Before this process, the U.S. was only importing oil and now it’s exporting oil. It’s had a serious effect and will continue to.”
And that, you could say, is a tip from Dontsov.