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UPC: C/ Jordi Girona 31, (08034 - Barcelona) - IDAEA: C/ Jordi Girona 18-26, (08034 - Barcelona)

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Induced Seismicity in Enhanced Geothermal Systems: Assessment of Thermo-Hydro-Mechanical Effects



Silvia de Simone

Thesis advisors:
Dr. Jesús Carrera Ramírez (CSIC) 
Dr. Víctor Vilarrasa (CSIC)
Maarten Saaltink (UPC) 

DATE: Wednesday, march 29th 2017
Hour: 11:00


Place: UPC, Campus Nord. Building C1. Classroom: 002.


Micro-seismicity, and especially felt seismicity, induced by Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) operations is a matter of scientific interest, not only because of the related risks and concerns, but also because the correspondence between injection and seismic activity still remains unclear. The Thesis aims to deepen the understanding of the involved Thermo-Hydro-Mechanical (THM) processes, in order to explain and manage co- and post-injection seismicity.

First, we investigate the HM coupling and its effects on pressure response. Fluids injection exerts a force over the aquifer that causes deformation. This implies that Specific Storage, which reflects the capacity of permeable media to deform, cannot be treated as a single parameter, like in classical groundwater hydrology, because deformation also depends on aquifer geometry and on surrounding formations, which constrain displacements. We demonstrate the non-local nature of storage (i.e., its dependence on the poroelastic response over the whole aquifer) by means of analytical solutions to the transient pressure response to injection into one-dimensional and cylindrical finite aquifers, while acknowledging HM coupling. We find that the pressure response is faster and much greater than predicted with traditional solutions.

Second, we consider non-isothermal injection and compare the effects of HM and TM couplings. We present analytical expressions for long-term hydraulic and thermal stresses and displacements for unidirectional and radial geometries. To obtain them, we assume steady-state fluid flow and develop an easy-to-use solution to the transient heat transport problem. The solution is then used to illustrate the poroelastic and thermoelastic response and, in particular, the sensitivity of stresses to the outer mechanical boundary conditions.

Third, we perform coupled HM and THM simulations of cold water injection in a fault-intact rock system, which allows us to analyze mechanical stability changes during injection in the vicinity of the well. Simulation results show that temperature drop induces a significant perturbation of stresses in the intact rock near the injection well. This perturbation is likely to induce seismicity around critically oriented fractures. HM simulations show that fracture stability depends on the orientation of the faults and on the initial stress tensor. Results show that TM effects dominate and could induce seismicity, when the largest confining stress acts perpendicular to a fracture.

Finally, we investigate the mechanisms that may induce seismicity after the end of fluid injection into a deep geothermal system (post-injection seismicity). Apart from the direct impact of fluid pressure increase, we acknowledge thermal effects due to cooling and stress redistribution caused by shear slip along favorably oriented fractures during injection. The effect of these three processes are analyzed both separately and superimposed. We find that post-injection seismicity may occur on unfavorably oriented faults that were originally stable. During injection, such faults become destabilized by thermal and shear slip stress changes, but remain static by the superposition of the stabilizing effect of pressure forces. However, these fractures become unstable and fail when the pressure forcing dissipates shortly after injection stops abruptly, which suggests that a slow reduction in injection rate may alleviate post-injection seismicity.

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