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Microseismicity and permeability enhancement of hydrogeologic structures during massive fluid injections into granite at 3 km depth at the Soultz HDR site



A high-rate injection of 20 000 m3 of water into granite between 2.8 and 3.4 km depth at the Soultz hot dry rock (HDR) test site in France in 1993 September led to a 200-fold increase in borehole transmissivity and produced a subvertical cloud of microseismicity of dimensions 0.5 km wide, 1.2 km long, 1.5 km high and oriented 25°NW. The resulting data set is unusually complete and well suited to studying permeability creation/enhancement processes in crystalline rock and the utility of microseismic data for revealing them. Although the microseismic cloud defined using joint hypocentre determination (JHD) locations was diffuse and showed little structure, application of the collapsing method showed it to be composed largely of discrete tubes and planes that propagated coherently. One prominent structure that extended 350 m downwards from the vicinity of a flow inlet early in the injection and that appears to contain a major flow path was subjected to detailed investigation to establish its hydrogeologic nature and the mechanisms underpinning its inferred permeability enhancement. High-resolution microseismic mapping techniques (i.e. multiplets and clustering) showed it to be a subvertical, NNW–SSE striking, fracture zone of width 10–20 m. The strike and scale of the structure identifies it as a member of a family of hydrothermally altered, cataclastic shear structures that constitute the primary permeable paths for fluid migration within the rock mass, both under ambient and forced fluid flow conditions. The microseismicity occurred on subvertical, small-scale fractures within the cataclastic shear zone whose azimuths scatter within 22° of parallel to the parent structure. Although the structure is likely to have been naturally permeable to some degree, its permeability appears to have been significantly enhanced as a consequence of the injection. The most likely mechanism of permeability enhancement, which is in accord with the strong preference for the microseismicity to grow downwards, involves strike-slip shearing, which produced the opening of vertical tubes at along-strike jogs in the fault (the so-called Hill mesh). Seismic moment release averaged over the structure suggests shear displacements of at least 0.3 mm occurred, which are sufficient to generate aperture changes that are hydraulically significant. The preponderance of discrete structures within the microseismic cloud after collapsing suggests that significant flow and permeability enhancement (i.e. stimulation) within the rock mass is largely confined to the interiors of shear zones that appear to have a spacing of approximately 100 m.