Numerical analysis of thermal fracturing in subsurface cold water injection by finite element methods


Correspondence to: Shunde Yin, Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, University of Wyoming, Laramie, WY 82071, U.S.A.



Integration of poromechanics and fracture mechanics plays an important role in understanding a series of thermal fracturing phenomena in subsurface porous media such as cold water flooding for enhanced oil recovery, produced-water reinjection for waste disposal, cold water injection for geothermal energy extraction, and CO2 injection for geosequestration. Thermal fracturing modeling is important to prevent the potential risks when fractures propagate into undesired zones, and it involves the coupling of heat transfer, mass transport, and stress change as well as the fracture propagation. Analytical method, finite element method, and finite difference method as well as boundary element method have been used to perform the thermal fracturing modeling considering different degrees and combinations of coupling. In this paper, extended finite element method is employed for the thermal fracturing modeling in a fully coupled fashion with remeshing avoided, and the stabilized finite element method is employed to account for the convection-dominated heat transfer in the fracturing process with numerical oscillation circumvented. With the thermal fracturing model, a hypothetical numerical experiment on cold water injection into a deep warm aquifer is conducted. Results show that parameters such as injection rate, injection temperature, aquifer stiffness, and permeability can affect the fracture development in different ways and extended finite element method and stabilized finite element method provide effective tools for thermal fracturing simulation. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.